Friday, March 29, 2013

Why public opinion - as demonstrated by issue polls - isn't enough

Anyone who read here in the lead-up to the 2012 election knows that I couldn't seem to stop myself from diving into the polling numbers. As it turned out - folks like Nate Silver did pretty well with his formulas in predicting the outcome.

But I've learned to have much less interest in polling on issues (as opposed to elections). Some of that is because polls about how Americans respond nationally to issues doesn't really seem to matter. Even in the election polls, the more accurate read was on the state polls. Politicians don't necessarily care what a majority of the people in the country say about an issue. They care what their constituents think. And even more narrowly than that - many Republicans care mostly about what primary voters in their districts/states think.

Jonathan Chait is even more cynical about it all than I am though.
Actually, since background checks command 90 percent in the polls but lack support from Republicans in Congress, pretty clearly millions of voices calling for change are less powerful than holding a House majority. They're also less powerful than a Senate majority. Or even 41 Senators, who can stop anything they want.
This is the current dilemma that has most of us scratching our can Republicans hope to survive when 90% of the people disagree with their position? It seems to indicate that even those who might face a primary challenge in a deeply red district would be covered in voting for background checks.

Jonathan Bernstein breaks down why that's not the case.
"Public opinion" is barely real; most of the time, on most issues, change the wording of the question and you'll get entirely different answers. At best, "public opinion" as such is passive. And in politics, passive doesn't get results.

Action works.
I say all this to point out that our work is not over when we can simply point to an issue poll and say that the public agrees with us.

Its also interesting to note that this conversation is likely taking place precisely because we have a Community Organizer-in-Chief in the White House right now who - through vehicles like OFA - are bringing the voice of the people to bear on these issues. We're now at the stage where we're honing in on the particulars of how that can happen.


  1. This post of yours also highlights the fact that the bully pulpit "kick their butts and twist their arms" waste-of-rant that much of the online left has been exhorting is pointless, and has been for a long time. Obama WON on the issues partly due to the fact that his positions make sense, partly because he is a skilled communicator even in this age of information overdose. But, it takes more than that.

  2. It's not opinions that matter, it's what voters believe at any given time. Even if the public is with you on a position, it's too easy for opponents to demonize your stance. We saw that with death panels, "you didn't build that,"out of control spending, amnesty, and too many more to count. So I don't care about something that 90% of Americans would like. It's too easy to turn them against it.


  3. Time to march ...put our boots on....a million citizen addition time to build coalitions in those gerrymandered districts...on issues that impact on all for the hunters and sportsman to stand up be counted....