I have been playing with poll numbers this past week, specifically digesting the fascinating results from Survey USA. I have enjoyed the results I wanted for the most part, which were to tweak Liberals about their blind spots in assuming they owned the minority vote no matter where one looked. I also have been pointing out the fallacy of suggesting that a small respondent pool may be valid in one poll but not another – if it’s not reasonable to consider a small sample for a poll which produces results you don’t like, it’s unreasonable to accept small samples from a different poll just because it says what you want to hear. And of course I have long understood that not all polls are equal in validity or consistency. To put it another way, elections are the most reliable polls. And sorry Kerry fanatics, exit polls are not as valid as actual elections.
But elections themselves can be misleading. Richard Nixon in 1972 and Lyndon Johnson in 1964 won huge landslide victories, yet shortly afterward found hard times, and a collapse of support even from their own parties. Two years after Bill Clinton won the White House, the Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives. And so on in many other campaigns. That is probably the biggest reason why both major parties spend so much on private polling themselves – to try to find the way to gaining or improving control of one of the legislative chambers or the White House.
I should be specific here, in pointing out that opinion polling, if done correctly, is a valid science and has been useful in many past elections. However, not all polls bother to use valid methodology, nor do all polls properly understand the data they receive. More than a few, especially when sponsored by media, are prone to play with the numbers and over-emphasize the things which seem to say what they want to hear. This is one reason I had some fun with the results from the Survey USA poll – my statements were every bit as valid on the evidence, as many statements trumpeted by the press from other polls in the last year. The Liberals were not amused, but then they have not been a very happy group for some years now.
But to the topic. One salient difference between the Democrats and the Republicans on the national level, is that Democrats tend to target key groups of interest, while Republicans tend to aim for the broader whole. As a result, this means that minorities who still vote in blocs tend to receive a much higher level of attention from Democrat candidates during the election season. This may be a reason for continued broad support for national Democrats from Blacks and Asians more than from Hispanics, because of the different ways in which each cultural community expresses itself. While in specific issues and in terms of direct benefit, minorities do not receive much support or gain at all from Democrats in office, there is the sense that Democrats are more willing to come to them at union halls and community centers and answer questions. That, however, has begun to change.
The continuing decline in the power and influence of labor unions is also driving minorities to other centers for community involvement, such as civil groups, volunteer charities and churches/mosques/synagogues. Republicans have begun in the past decade to do a much better job of reaching out to these places, especially the ones which are family and values-oriented. This is not to say that Democrats do not also reach out to such places, but they no longer hold a monopoly on the discussions there. The recent evidence that minorities in different places hold differing political opinions, in my opinion demonstrates that the lock on the minority vote is eroding.
In terms of elections, this may be more important than is initially recognized. As Republicans make inroads where Democrats have previously enjoyed near-complete control, the vector of key demographic sectors is likely to shift. And while by definition a change in minority vectors is less important than the majority opinion, unless Democrats can begin to make effective arguments to the nation as a whole, the loss of even some of their minority support will cost them in future elections.