Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Poll my finger

Just a few weeks ago, Democrats were crowing about the polls; now we're seeing the inevitable articles about how polls don't matter. Billmon offers an interesting analysis titled "Half Empty or Half Full?"

His choice of title worries me, since the question it poses is not, as many think, beyond solution. A glass is half full if you started with an empty container and poured liquid into it. The glass is half empty if you started with a container brimming with liquid and then poured some out. Since Kerry once pulled higher numbers than he does now, we can fairly say that the glass is half empty. Or at least, it is in the process of emptying.

One follow-up comment is worth noting:

I think it is all good. We are political junkies and we make the mistake of assuming that everyone is paying as much attention to this stuff as we are. We look at the revelations of the past month, the deterioration of the situation in Iraq and marvel at the fact that Bush still has the support of nearly half the electorate.

But that isn't how this stuff works and I think Kerry is well aware of that. I think that the information that has been put out in the public domain over the past month will sink Bush but not immediately. There is a period of time when it is almost like spreading fertilizer around. The plants don't just spring up over night.

Hmm. Not so sure if that analogy holds. The modern news cycle tends to impose a "miracle grow" effect -- no fertilization needed; the plants pop up almost immediately. It is true that the general electorate has paid insufficient attention to the race, but that factor works against Kerry. He was more popular when people did not know him well. Bush is winning -- has won? -- the battle to define his opponent.

The disaster in Iraq seems to have had the surprising (to Democrats) effect of bolstering support for Bush, the 'onlie begettor' of the tragedy. But despair may be premature. If I may be permitted an uncharacteristic note of optimism, there is some chance that the history of 1980 will repeat itself. The Iranian hostage crisis rallied support for Jimmy Carter -- at first. As the debacle wore on, people became frustrated, and they took their frustrations out on a sitting president.

Polls often serve only to remind us that we live in a country where people watch Jerry Springer and wrestling. Remember that PIPA poll which revealed that a large majority of Americans continue to believe that Saddam and Osama were gay lovers (or something similarly intimate)? Those findings have been largely confirmed by a Harris poll reaching much the same conclusion.

As the Book of the Sub-Genius once noted, "You know how dumb the average guy is? By definition, half the people out there are stupider than that."

No comments: