The "incumbent rule" benefited Nader.

Dispatches from Campaign 2004.
Nov. 3 2004 12:08 AM

Blame Nader

The undecideds broke for the other challenger.

BOSTON—If John Kerry loses this election, it will be because the "incumbent rule" proved true, but it still didn't benefit the Democratic candidate. Nine percent of the electorate, according to the national exit poll, made up their minds within the past three days. As predicted by polling experts, a fairly small proportion, only 40 percent, decided to cast ballots for President Bush. But John Kerry didn't benefit from their decision not to support the president. Instead, Ralph Nader did.

That's right, the undecideds broke disproportionately for Nader, not Kerry. If the poll is correct, Nader will receive only 1 percent of the popular vote. But 4 percent of the voters who made up their minds in the past three days cast ballots for Nader. Among the voters who made their decision on Election Day, 5 percent went for Nader.

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Kerry's support, in contrast, was fairly static. Among the 11 percent of the country who made their decision in the last week of the election, according to the exit poll,Kerry's support was only 1 percent higher than his support among already decided voters. Nader's support quadrupled.

If the poll is accurate, the undecideds didn't break overwhelmingly for the challenger, as predicted, but they did break for him. Unfortunately for Kerry, everyone forgot there was more than one challenger.

Chris Suellentrop is the deputy editor for blogs at Yahoo News and a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine. He has reviewed video games for Slate, Rolling Stone, and NewYorker.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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