On Polling and Electability
by CA Pol Junkie
I think this would be a good time for all political junkies to take a deep breath. We can't stay strung out on politics 24 hours a day for the next 193 days. Take a deep breath. In..... Out..... Good. Think of your Happy Place. Good. OK. I hear there is a primary campaign going on right now. Apparently people disagree about who should be the next president. Weird, but I guess that's democracy for ya.
Almost everyone has voted and we know how the story ends, but the campaign goes on. Some people want us to vote for their candidate because their candidate will win in November! Sounds cool, I guess, but did someone invent a real crystal ball that can tell the future? Alot of people think they have one, but I've searched the stores and can't find one anywhere.
The argument goes something like this: my candidate win will because the polls say so! They point out some really cool websites with extraordinary data processing and very nice colored maps that say Everyone west of Lake Michigan thinks Obama rocks! and Everyone east of Lake Michigan thinks Clinton is the bee's knees! Yeah, OK, each candidate has different regional support, but if you add up the electoral votes you get... pretty much the same thing for either candidate. Frankly, it makes sense. It's not a coincidence that our candidates are pretty closely matched and both are projected to do approximately equally well in November.
There's another wee little problem with those clever maps displaying the polling data - they are almost certainly wrong. Very wrong.
Strange as it may seem, most Americans aren't consumed by politics. They work hard, pay the bills, play with their kids, watch TV, and barbecue with their friends. They know they don't have to worry about voting for president for another six months, and all they see are little snippets that annoy them on the TV news. They aren't thinking yet about how their vote will affect the economy, the war, or their health care because they just don't have to worry about that yet. After Labor Day, political junkies can follow the polls like the fate of the world depends on them (which is actually the case). Until then, though, political junkies will get nothing but bad fixes from all those amazing maps.
Here are a couple New York Times / CBS News polls to demonstrate this effect:
May 9-12, 1988 amid "deep public doubts about Vice President Bush and the Reagan Administration's handling of key issues"
Michael Dukakis 49%
George H.W. Bush 39%
April 20-23, 1992 during "a wave of discontent with politics-as-usual"
George H.W. Bush 38%
Bill Clinton 28%
Ross Perot 23%
How about this CNN poll from April 13-14, 2000? Does this look like the final result?
George W. Bush 59%
Al Gore 38%
There is one even better reason not to worry about electability: Democrats shouldn't be cowards. We are in the mainstream of America on basically every single issue. We don't need to try to sneak a candidate past the voters because Democratic values are American values. Let's choose our nominee based on who we actually want to be president. It's a shocking thought from a Party conditioned to fear what other people think, but if we want to lead the country we need to show the way instead of meekly asking which way to go.