Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Poll Points


Long-time readers at Polipundit may recall that this time last year, I was in the regular practice of dissecting polls discussing the upcoming Presidential Election. They will have noticed, I am sure, that I have not paid particular attention to the more recent offerings.

While some on the Left may believe I am ignoring the polls because of President Bush’s low numbers there at present, it’s really for the same reason I don’t spend much time checking the instrument gauge on my car while I’m not driving; I don’t worry about things when they’re not relevant.

You see, whether or not the numbers from Gallup, AP/Ipsos, Pew, and the rest are good for Dubya or poor in their portrayal of the President, they are not an apples-to-apples comparison with last year’s polls. In the first place, there is a generally smaller respondent pool of respondents, who are queried less often, and who are usually not even asked whether or not they voted in the last election, or intend to vote in the next one, which strikes me as a big mistake. Also, the questions are, to be blunt, often phrased in a manner which a courtroom lawyer might well object to as ‘leading’.

But it’s even more significant to understand how the significance of polls has changed since last summer and fall. Last year, how well people thought of George W. Bush was very important, because Bush needed re-election. At this point in his Administration, however, Bush could really not care less whether his policies are a smash hit or not, so long as he is effective. While it could be argued that since Congress tends to pay attention to polls they would press the President to raise his numbers, it is a well-known fact that Congress generally gets approval ratings separate from the President, and in any case, while I would say that the White House is aware of public opinion, the W team is hardly about to approach the President and tell him that he has to change course, because CNN and CBS don’t agree with him.

Poll analysis is a growing field, and at the moment much more an art than a science. But in general, Bush knows that staying on course has worked for him, and in any case twiddling to wind flutters in a poll doesn’t sit well with his way of thinking. For better or worse, that means that the policies and nominees we get from the President’s office and staff are very unlikely to change. In addition to the President’s known stubborn streak, it is also a plain fact that Bush owes no markers to anyone in Congress; quite the opposite in fact. The GOP knows very well that whatever the present poll numbers, their chance for support in re-election depends on Presidential confidence in them, and more than a tepid photo op. That is, while George W. Bush has no more need of political ambition, he holds considerable political influence, and the Leadership of the GOP knows this. And since W. knows they know this, he knows he holds all the aces.

Yes, personally there are things I would like to see President Bush do and say differently than he has up to now. But it’s vital for folks to understand that he neither needs poll numbers, nor worries about them.

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