One of the favorite shticks of Democrat pollster Public Policy Polling (PPP) is to ask questions designed to make Republican voters look bad. This kind of “troll polling” flatters all the usual sorts of people who love to laugh at what yokels the GOP’s supporters are, and as yet no Republican-leaning pollster has gotten into the regular business of giving Democrats a taste of the same medicine. If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s not to trust individual polls that can’t be checked against a polling average, but by definition these are all one-off polls. But there’s a deeper issue here that the latest PPP trolling question illustrates: that average Americans are far too trusting of pollsters, and the ability of pollsters to exploit that trust shows why polling on individual issues is untrustworthy.
Here’s the latest poll question that has PPP’s followers floating on a cloud of smug this morning:
I have frequently criticized liberal and Democratic commentators for relying on the Static Electorate Fallacy, the idea that the 2016 electorate and results will not stray far from the demographic, geographic and ideological contours of 2012, despite longstanding American electoral history showing that elections following the re-election of an incumbent have always featured shifts in the map to the detriment of the party in power. Candidates make their own turnout, and removing a successfully re-elected incumbent always puts more voters and potential voters up for grabs.
But conservative and Republican commentators need to avoid believing our own comforting myths, and one of those has managed remarkable durability even though it should have gone away within a month of the 2012 elections: that something like 4 million usually reliable conservative voters – voters who showed up at the polls even in the down year of 2008 to support John McCain – stayed home in 2012 because Mitt Romney was too moderate. This theory keeps getting offered as proof that all the GOP needs to do is nominate a real conservative and this cavalry, 4 million strong, will come charging over the hilltop and save the day. In fact, poor a candidate as he was, Romney actually got more votes than McCain did; the belief that he got less is based entirely on incomplete numbers reported in the first 24-48 hours after Election Day, before all the votes had finally been counted.
To all outward appearances, Democrats and liberal-progressive pundits are confident to the point of arrogant, gloating certainty about the 2016 presidential election. In part this is “victory disease” – they were sure they would win in 2008 and 2012, they were right, so they are convinced it shall always be so. In part it’s a defense mechanism – they got shellacked in 2010 and 2014, and the best way to convince yourself that these losses were illegitimate as a repudiation of their party and its message is to argue that lower-turnout off-year elections don’t represent the real American people who turn out for general elections, who are presumed to give Democrats an unstoppable demographic advantage in all future elections. In part it’s a matter of having settled on a famous and “historic” (first woman) nominee while Republicans are still going about the messy business of sifting through the 14 remaining GOP candidates. And in part it’s calculated strategy, given how much of modern campaigning in general and the strategy of the stilted, sclerotic Hillary campaign in particular will depend on simply bluffing the voters into believing that she’s already an inevitable lock to win. But behind the facade of braggadocio, there are signs that Democrats are starting to worry that their 2016 strategy and prospects may not be as foolproof as advertised.
The theory that Democrats and left-leaning pundits have promulgated since 2012 is that all the old categories of “swing voters” in the center of the electorate are now irrelevant, because they can depend on a permanent general-election majority consisting of 1) mostly urban non-white voters, 2) mostly urban, childless, non-religious white progressives, and 3) the youngest voters. The only thing Democratic politicians need do, the theory goes, is to offer the needed combination of left-wing progressive politics and culture-war hot button wedge issues; after that, the data-miners and hashtag and meme factories will summon these voters to the polls out of the apathetic torpor with which they view elections and government the other 47 months of the political life cycle.
RS: The Democrat Bench Is Shallow And Aging
The Democrats’ extensive losses in the 2010 and 2014 midterms (as well as other off-year elections in 2009, 2011, 2015 and the Governors races in 2012) have left their party hollowed out beneath the White House, which is one reason why the top two contenders in their presidential primary are a 68-year-old who arrived in Washington in 1993, and a 74-year-old who has never held a leadership position in Congress. But beyond the sheer numbers of losses in the Senate, House, Governorships, and state legislatures, there is also the fact that the GOP is building a strong, deep farm team while the Democrats are aging and not replacing their leaders with much in the way of new blood.
Fifty-one years ago today in Los Angeles, a 53-year-old political amateur, Ronald Reagan, gave a half-hour nationally-televised speech, “A Time For Choosing,” on behalf of Barry Goldwater’s campaign in the following week’s presidential election. 16 years later, Reagan would win 44 states and an almost double-digit popular vote margin of victory, kicking off the most successful and conservative Republican presidency in U.S. history, leading to a 49-state landslide in 1984 and the election of his Vice President for a “third Reagan term” in 1988, the only time in the past 70 years that a party has held the White House for three consecutive terms.
Given the extent to which Reagan’s legacy still dominates internal debates within the GOP and the conservative movement, it’s worth asking ourselves: What did he accomplish? How did he do it? And what can we learn from him today?
Donald Trump presents a threat – we can debate how big a threat, but a threat – to the conservative movement and the Republican Party. As conservatives and Republicans, we need a battle plan that has an endgame that gives Trump a way out of the primaries without running a third-party campaign, and brings his current supporters into the fold to not only support the Republican presidential nominee, but ideally help us select a more conservative nominee, party and platform. So there are limits to how much we should be attacking voters who are listening to Trump and like what they hear.
But there’s a difference between followers and leaders. If you’re in a position of leadership – elected officials, organizers, fundraisers, cable and talk radio hosts, pundits, columnists, bloggers – and you’re actively encouraging the Trump phenomenon, you are neither a conservative nor a Republican anymore and should not expect anyone to take you seriously again. Today’s case in point: Laura Ingraham.
I forgot to add this one the last time I updated here – I didn’t get around to writing up a full analysis of the King v Burwell decision and its many glaring flaws, but I did put together a Storify essay from my Tweets. 2018 UPDATE: Storify is going out of business, so I’m reprinting this below the fold.