Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

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.

April 8, 2009 - Posted by | U.S. politics


  1. The Republican Party has become totally partisan and quite unpatriotic. Skewing its own polls does nothing more than confirm its own weaknesses. So typical of this rudderless primarily wedge issue, group of people lead by freaks Limbaugh, Bachman, and Beck, et. al. and impotent figureheads McConnell, Boehner, and Cantor.

    Comment by Ralph Reed | April 8, 2009

  2. We need more than 2 political parties. However, the Republicans will bounce back. History tells me so.

    Comment by Paul | April 8, 2009

  3. Our, history also tells us that political parties come and go. It may be time for the Republican party as it is today to die. It is the victim of a cancerous growth of partisanship and extremism spurred on by those whom I referred to earlier. It might be best for the country that it be allowed to euthanize itself to be replaced by a more statesmanlike and truly patriotic organization.

    Comment by Ralph Reed | April 8, 2009

  4. That’s possible, Ralph. If so, I think it will be at least two more presidential elections before the Republicans die out as a national party. It’s possible that the libertarians would replace them. But my guess is that, if the GOP dies, the Democrats will split in two: Progressive Democrats and Centrist/Conservative Democrats. Unfortunately, they seem to be in the midst of this breakdown BEFORE the Republicans have finished themselves off.

    Or, if we get instant run-off voting and proportional representation, we could see past the two party system. The Green Party could grow and siphon off some of the progressive Democrats. And the Libertarian Party could siphon off the more reasonable Republicans. This may make for coalition governments. We’ll see.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 8, 2009

  5. Very interesting points. I like them There will have to be a place for the freaks of the Republican party and their devoted following. They all kind of remind me of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. Maybe, like Gollum, they will fall into the seething mass of the fires of their imagination, never to be heard from again.

    Comment by Ralph Reed | April 8, 2009

  6. Well, if Duverger’s Law holds, even if the R’s disappear, it’s likely that the structure of our electoral system means we’ll continue to be a two-party country.

    Push polling is a waste of everyone’s time. Most voters realize they aren’t being asked fair questions, no one in politics really takes them seriously, and they usually only become stories if the questions are so egregious that the media have to explain how wrong they are.

    Comment by Texas in Africa | April 8, 2009

  7. Er, Duverger’s law, Tex? I think that the combination of instant run-off voting and proportional representation could help a small number of minor parties. (I wouldn’t want something like Italy or Israel where the parties are so numerous and small and the coalitions so unstable that no government lasts very long.) But I think that the two major parties are so invested in the two-party system (although it is not a part of the Constitution) that they will never pass these reforms.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 9, 2009

  8. On the socialism question, Rasmussen reports today:

    “Only 53% of American adults believe capitalism is better than socialism. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 20% disagree and say socialism is better. Twenty-seven percent (27%) are not sure which is better.” And 30% of Democrats agreed socialism is better. Pretty close.

    Anyway, push polls are not good.

    Party on.

    Comment by K Gray | April 9, 2009

  9. The Rasmussen push poll is just as ridiculous, K, as the RNC one. If 20% of Americans really believe in socialism, the Socialist Party will soon be larger than either the Greens or Libertarians and nearly as large as the Republican Party (25%). Even more absurd is that the RNC will still try to say, “America is a center-right nation.”

    By the way, I doubt the GOP will actually disappear. The Democratic Party self-destructed in 1968, but it is back now. So, maybe the GOP will just be in the wilderness for 40 years. 🙂

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 9, 2009

  10. In what way is the Rasmussen poll ridiculous?

    The poll did not define socialism or capitalism, so it wasn’t intended to educate or persuade, or to pinpoint subsets of opinion — much like “do you approve or approve of the President’s job performance?” Many people don’t know what the President does as opposed to Congress, either.

    Comment by K Gray | April 9, 2009

  11. Precisely by NOT defining the terms, the poll is useless–except that it shows that rightwing attempts to scare people with the word “socialism” (BOO!) aren’t working.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 9, 2009

  12. What was the name of this blog again? 🙂

    Comment by K Gray | April 9, 2009

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