How NOT to Come Out of the Political Wilderness
Look, yes, I am a Democrat–a progressive Democrat. If we had a system that was friendlier to third parties, I might be a Green. But as it is, I am a Democrat. But I am a U.S. citizen before that. (I am a Christian before anything else.) And, as a U.S. citizen, I want a functioning democracy–which requires at least two functioning political parties.
So, while the continued self-destruction of the Republican Party is entertaining to watch for the Democratic partisan in me, the loyal citizen worries. Sure, in the short run, the continued self-destruction of the GOP will help the nation because the main reasons the public elected Democrats in overwhelming majorities for two election cycles are good reasons and those goals will be met with continued large Democratic majorities. But iron sharpens iron. And if the Democrats have things too easy, they will get lazy and corrupt. A political party needs a strong well-informed, reasonable opposition. So, the part of me that is a citizen doesn’t want to see the GOP TOO far into the wilderness for TOO long.
Yet, here they are doing everything wrong if they hope to make a comeback. The latest goof is this online survey called the 2009 State of the Republican Party Survey. Yes, when you’ve just lost hugely two cycles running, it is a good idea to poll your membership about what you are doing right and wrong. But you also need to poll independents–those you hope to win to your cause. Just polling true believers is not going to be as helpful.
Further, you have to poll with genuine questions. This survey practices push polling. Push polling skews the results of a survey by asking loaded questions that manipulate the answer. The questions insert lies or distortions into the very question. These are often used as a campaign technique to smear an opponent while disguising what you are doing as a poll. (E.g,, “Would you support Barack Obama’s complete surrender to Islamist terrorists?” That was an actual phone survey question I was asked last summer. Of course, Obama never had any intention to surrender to anyone, but the question makes it seem that he was.) As a technique for winning elections, the push poll has mixed results. But as an actual tool for gathering useful information, especially information on the kinds of changes needed to get out of the political wilderness, push polling is completely USELESS.
Consider some of the sillier questions in this survey:
- A recent poll showed that 25% of Americans want the government to pass more socialism. Do you agree or disagree? First of all, that RNC poll was itself a push poll. No genuinely socialist policies have been proposed, never mind passed. There is exactly ONE socialist in Congress, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and ZERO in the White House. Nearly everyone who answers this poll is going to disagree with “passing more socialism,” but this doesn’t tell anyone anything useful about what real policies they would or would not support. Instead, the GOP who keep falsely labelling Obama’s policies as “socialist” will use these “results” as evidence of support in their opposition. So, they’re misleading–not helpful if you are genuinely trying to find out where people think you are going wrong.
- Do you oppose so-called “card check” legislation, which eliminates secret ballot elections in union drives and puts workers at risk of intimindation of union bosses? Again, push polling. “Card-check,” the Employee Free Choice Act, does not eliminate secret ballot elections. It gives workers the CHOICE on whether or not to have an election and, if they choose to have one, allows them to choose the time and place (rather than management) of the election so that MANAGEMENT cannot intimidate them. The RNC knows this. They have read the legislation. So, they are not really trying to determine whether the public supports making it easier for unions to organize, whether or not they support the provisions of EFCA. Rather, they are trying to distort those provisions and hope that people will support their efforts to block EFCA based on misinformation about it.
- Should Republicans in Congress unite to block new federal government bureacracy and red tape that will crush future economic growth? Hmm., you mean like the huge federal bureacracy created by the Department of Homeland Security? By the terrible “No Child Left Behind” legislation? By the botched senior drug benefit added to Medicare:? All of these were screwed up expansions to the bureacracy passed by a GOP Congress at the behest of Pres. Bush.
It goes on like this for pages. It is full of red meat which may play well for the conservative GOP base. It may serve to rally the troops. But it won’t actually tell the RNC anything useful about the opinions of ordinary Americans. It won’t help them come out of the political wilderness.
And it is the kind of skewed poll that gives polling and statistics a bad name.
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