The Self Made Pundit

I'm just the guy that can't stand cant. ___________

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Wednesday, November 27, 2002
BAD NEWS FOR THE DEMS, BUT JUST HOW BAD?: The current political opinion polls have correctly been depicted in the news media as bad news for the Democrats. However, the news is not as bad as some of these polls indicate on a superficial level.

Take a look at the New York Times/CBS News poll released yesterday. At first glance, it certainly seems like terrible new for the Democrats. One main finding is that 51 percent of the respondents view the Republican Party favorably while only 45 percent view the Democrats favorably.

I doubt that the news (while certainly not good) is really that dire for the Democrats. This poll was taken on the heels of two weeks of heavy media coverage depicting a triumphant Bush as ascendant over hapless, clueless and messageless Democrats. Such coverage undoubtedly depressed the Democrats’ favorability ratings.

I would wager that a substantial number of Americans that wanted the Democrats to win in the midterm elections now view their favored party with less than warm or favorable feelings. Indeed, the detailed breakdown of the poll results (largely ignored by the media) indicates that disappointed Democrats did play a role in the Democratic Party’s low favorability ratings. While 95 percent of Republicans expressed a favorable opinion of their party, only 77 percent of Democrats stated they had a favorable view of the Democratic Party.

A better gauge of the parties’ relative appeal to the voters would their favorability ratings on the eve of the midterm election. The New York Times/CBS News poll taken from October 27 to 31, 2002, actually found the parties in a virtual tie, with 55 percent of all respondents expressing a favorable view of the Democrats and 54 percent expressing a favorable view of the Republicans.

Equally suspect is the recent poll’s finding that Al Gore has a favorability rating of only 19 percent. While this is hardly good news, I find its significance dubious. Favorability ratings of politicians – especially before a campaign starts in earnest – can bounce around and be unreliable indicators. Gore’s own history of favorability ratings proves ths point. According to CBS News Polls, from February 1995 to June 1999 Gore’s favorability ratings dropped from 48 percent to a low of 17 percent. Yet, once Gore’s presidential campaign got underway, his favorability ratings generally improved, until he was at a high of 51 percent in December 2000.

Even CBS News’s own political reporters have warned that these poll results should be taken with a bagful of salt:

In the latest example of confusing poll results, the CBS News/New York Times poll conducted over the weekend says that only a third of Democrats think the party "should give Al Gore another chance to run and nominate him," while 55 percent think "the Democrats should nominate someone new." So the message from Democrats to Al Gore is: "Go Away." Right?

Not so fast. Last week, we reported on a CNN/Time poll that said 61 percent of Democrats would like to see Gore run again. The wording of the two questions produced two very different pictures of how the rank and file feels about the former vice president.

The CNN pollster, Keating Holland, suggests that the CBS wording may actually reflect the hard-core Democratic support for Gore since it tracks with the 34 percent of Democrats in their poll who say they'd vote for him in a 2004 Democratic primary field that included Hillary Clinton.

While we're at it, only 33 percent of Democrats in the CBS/New York Times poll had a favorable view of Gore compared to 70 percent in the CNN poll. Was it something he said on his book tour? Probably not. Once again the questions were worded differently. CBS/NYT asked people if their opinion of Gore is "favorable, not favorable, undecided, or haven't you heard enough about Al Gore yet to have an opinion?" Fully 43 percent of Democrats said they are undecided (28 percent) or hadn't heard enough (15 percent) about Gore (you wonder exactly where they've been, but that's another issue!) CNN asked a favorable/unfavorable question that pushes voters to express an opinion. And, when pushed, most Democrats were positive.

So what should he do? Probably take his own advice from this spring. Deep six the polls and follow his heart.

Since the poll also found that Americans tend to favor the Democrats’ policy positions over the Republicans’ positions, the news is not all bad for Gore and the Democrats. If the Democratic Party actually puts up a fight for what it believes during the next two years, it might just give Democrats a reason to feel favorable about their own party.