The Wall Street Journal and NBC released a big chunk of polling information today. The full piece is apparently on the WSJ premium site, but Daily Kos has the high points. Overall the news is bad for Bush, but not particularly encouraging for Kerry; it's clear that he hasn't closed the sale with a lot of voters, and an uptick in the news from Iraq or on the economy probably could swing a fair number of people back toward Bush.
But I did see one piece of potentially very good news for Kerry:
While a plurality disapproves Bush's economic stewardship, just 29% rate Kerry highly for "having the right economic policies; 28% give him low marks and 43% are neutral or have no opinion. But when voters hear his argument about the middle-class "being squeezed," it outpolls Bush's message that the economy "is getting stronger" by 65% to 35%.
This could be the key to the whole election, and the way Kerry might connect with voters on a level that pushes them toward a positive vote "for Kerry," rather than against Bush.
The reason has to do with the nature of these two arguments about the economy. In saying, "it's getting stronger," Bush is speaking to a bloodless statistic and hoping that this statement, along with media repetition of the same message, will become an accepted "truth." Kerry, in talking about the "middle class squeeze," is speaking to something that families feel--a sense that whatever wage and job data might say, the gap between their means and their wants/needs is steadily growing.
It helps that the stats bear this out: the cost of health care, college education and housing, three typical priorities for middle-class families has risen over the last couple decades much faster than have wages. And we know that in this "recovery," wages have stayed stagnant while corporate profits have spiked.
A book that came out last year, The Two-Income Trap, detailed a lot of this. Written by Harvard Law School Professor Elizabeth Warren and her daughter Amelia Warren Tyagi, the book sets out the case that middle-class families are actually less economically secure than they were 30 years ago--despite the fact that now, both parents are far more likely to have jobs.
I haven't read Warren's book yet, but I saw her speak at a CUNY event this past March. She makes a very powerful case, and has drawn the favorable attention of Bill Moyers and NOW, among others.
I don't know if someone in Kerry's campaign picked up this book and saw the strength of the case to be made, or some smart consultant came up with the theme. But in any event, I think they've found something that should resonate with the voting public. (It's also a very nice fit with the "Two Americas" message John Edwards rode into a surprisingly strong showing against Kerry for the Democratic nomination last winter. Coincidence?)