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Hurricane in a Teapot

What the polls (sort of) tell us about Bush-Kerry in Florida.

12:00 AM, Sep 27, 2004 • By KATHERINE MANGU-WARD
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LAST WEEKEND, Florida was swarming with FEMA workers, insurance adjusters, and pollsters. And all three groups agree--it's a mess down there.

A recent Gallup poll had Bush up by three points among likely voters in a three-way race. Another poll, conducted over the same weekend by the American Research Group, found Kerry ahead by one point. Yet a third poll, this one by Quinnipiac located Bush well in the lead among registered voters, with a 49-41 lead on Kerry. The polls average to a 3.4 point lead for Bush. Should Bush-Cheney 2004 dismiss the lawyers they have on retainer in the Sunshine State? Not just yet.

Still, the news is good enough that the campaign shouldn't fret about the falling numbers on Gallup's "How would you rate economic conditions" question. In July, 51 percent of Floridians said they thought economic conditions were "good" or "excellent." That number has fallen 10 points in the last month. I'll give you three guesses, gentle reader, about what might have happened to drive those numbers down. If you guessed Charley, Frances, and Ivan--you win! People tend to be a bit pessimistic about their economic future when they wake up and discover that their house is minus a roof.

But there's evidence that pessimism about the economy isn't translating to anger at government officials. The I-4 Corridor poll (a poll of 400 likely voters between Dayton and Tampa--the swingiest part of the state) shows approval for Governor Jeb Bush's handling of the hurricane fallout is high, with 84 percent calling it "good" or "excellent."

Quinnipiac's 819 registered voters agree. They report 87 percent approval of Gov. Bush's handling of the hurricane, which bumps "Gov. Bush's overall approval to 62-30 percent, up from a 45-44 percent split August 12."

On the presidential race, Florida's poll data is, ahem, all over the map. Polls are often at odds with each other, but there are extra reasons to read Florida's with a healthy dose of skepticism this week. As J. McIntyre notes on Real Clear Politics, huge swaths of the population have had intermittent phone service, or none at all, especially on the Republican-leaning panhandle. This would, understandably, make it hard for them to be included in the polls' respondents.

One thing is clear--this election is going to tighter than John Kerry's favorite wetsuit. But for the moment, last weekend's unreliable conflicting polls average out to a decent showing for Bush and give a few signs that things look good for future gains.

Katherine Mangu-Ward is a reporter for The Weekly Standard.