This is a partial transcript of "Special Report with Brit Hume", April 28, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.
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BRIT HUME, HOST: If there is one thing that both political camps seem to agree on this election year, it is that the nation remains as closely divided politically that was four years ago. And that, as you will be able to see, is reflected in current polls, including our own, which shows the presidential race basically tied and that it has been that way for some time. Why is this?
We turn to the man that runs the numbers for Bush-Cheney, senior political adviser Matthew Dowd.
Welcome to you, sir.
MATTHEW DOWD, BUSH-CHENEY '04: Glad to be here.
HUME: Why is it that the overall situation after all we've been through: 9/11, new president, tax cuts, economy down, economy -- all these developments; interesting times, as the Chinese might call them, things remain much as they were four years ago in your judgment?
DOWD: I think part of it has to do with the fact that this country is, one, evenly divided, but we now have so few people that really swing from election to election. And if you look at past exit polls, basically it's 45 to 46 percent of the country says they're Republican and performs -- and when they vote like a Republican. And 45 percent to 46 percent either are Democrats or vote like they are a Democrat. So there is only really 8 to 10 percent in between. And that's why this election is very tight.
HUME: Well, let me ask you about that, because there's a very large number of people who identify themselves as Independents, which presumably makes them available, depending on the circumstances, to either party. What about that?
DOWD: Well, that's -- it's interesting when you go further down, people say they're Independent, but when you find out how they vote, 75 percent of Independents either vote straight Democratic or Republican.
HUME: How do you know this? You knew this from exit polling last time around, or what?
DOWD: You look at the internals in exit polls in 2000, and '96, and '92. And it's a shrinking group of people. In 1984, when Reagan ran and won, there was about 20 percent of the people that truly swung, which is why you had a race that fluctuated in bigger margins. Today, 8 percent, 10 percent swing and so it's why this race will probably stay within three, four, five points from now until Election Day (search).
HUME: So you don't think there's any chance that somebody could break out and there could be a landslide?
DOWD: I define a landslide as winning by four or five points. Honestly, because...
HUME: Anymore, you mean?
DOWD: Yes. Anymore. Today until the sort of dynamics change. And I don't think that it will change fundamentally this year. It's going to take other things happening over time. But this year I think John Kerry or George Bush walks into Election Day with 45 or 46 percent of the vote and then they fight over eight to 10 percent of the rest of the country.
HUME: Well, let me ask you this, though. We had a period of time after 9/11, and it went on for some time, when the president enjoyed these stratospheric approval ratings. Which had to include some of these people who are -- who are -- you would include now as absolute lock, automatic votes for John Kerry. What about that? What changed?
DOWD: There was a time when his obviously -- when his approvals were in the 80s and 90s that we were getting high approval ratings among Democrats, which is the biggest driver of that. Our approval rating among Republicans is still the same as it was right after 9/11.
HUME: Yes. But did you believe -- when you saw those numbers, those high approval numbers, I'm sure you thought, and anybody sort of would logically conclude that as you got closer to Election Day they would come down. But did you believe that they would come -- did you sense that they would come down this much?
DOWD: Yes. And I've sort of talked to people about this. And we planned the campaign on based upon the fact that our numbers would drop down into the sort of 50, 52, 53 percent approval range.
Because as you sort of put the Democrats in the column they end up in, and then have a small amount of Independents, and we get what we're going to get among Republican. You get to the low to mid-50s in approval, and that's where it's going to settle out. Today we're at 50, 51, 52 percent approval.
HUME: And in some polls on who would you vote for, your -- a number of them now, you're under 50 percent. Now that is in sort of Politics 101, or when I was a political reporter, I always believed if an incumbent was going into an election year and was under 50 percent, he's in real trouble. Because whatever undecided there is tends to break the other way. What do you think about that?
DOWD: That used to be the case. It's no longer the case. You take a look at 2002 races and people that were ahead at about 45, or 46, or 47, ended up getting five or six points more than the incumbents in two thousand and...
HUME: Incumbents did?
DOWD: Incumbents did. Jeb Bush was at 48, 49 percent before Election Day. And then he ended up with 53 or 54 percent of the vote. What happens is that I think today is that undecideds, to a large degree, if they're undecided by the time Election Day comes in this country with the amount of news people have, how much information they have, and how polarized and divide it is, most undecideds in the end don't vote. In the very end of this race...
DOWD: If you have 3 or 4 percent of the people that are undecided in a Kerry-Bush race, the likelihood of them voting is very much reduced.
HUME: Now, what do you base that on? I mean what race can you cite that would...
DOWD: Just past performances. Look at 2002 races and see what happened with undecideds. In the margin that you had going in to Election Day, was roughly what you got on Election Day. And so what happens was is that while you got 49 -- if you were ahead 49-43, you won on Election Day by six or 7 points. You just reallocated the numbers.
So it's a -- we're -- today we're in a place where if somebody is undecided a week out, not the people that are undecided today, I think those people will probably still vote. But the undecideds a week out or so, the likelihood of them voting is probably reduced if they haven't decided at that point.
HUME: Wow. Matthew Dowd, very interesting. Thanks for being here.
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