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July, 31st 2009

A tale of two polls

– Liz Mair

Over recent days and weeks, I've noticed a heightened media focus on two topics that strike me as saying something important and relevant to the question of where the GOP goes from here, and how the party (further) rebuilds and puts itself into a position where it is clearly able to win back voters' support ahead of the midterm elections.  I'm not thinking of health care or the Gates episode (for lack of a better term).  I'm thinking of President Obama's polling numbers (say, those detailed here) and the "birther" issue, which has been given fresh life this week by virtue of a) a man called Mike Stark visiting Capitol Hill and capturing on camera various Republicans' reactions and responses to questions posed by him with a birther focus and b) this Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll.  It seems to me that these two things provide an important multi-part lesson for Republicans (the vast majority of whom already get this) in terms of what they should, and should not do, to ensure that come November 2010, Republican officeholders, candidates and ordinary party members are treated as more serious, and trustworthy, than their Democratic counterparts.  That lesson is: 1) reject birtherism in no uncertain terms, do it publicly, and keep on doing it for as long as it lingers as a topic of media attention; and 2) talk about policy--and do so constantly and consistently.  If all Republicans do this (and to be clear, it is hardly the whole party that has been opening itself up to accusations of actual or suspected birtherism), party fortunes (it seems to me) are likely to improve considerably. 

Here's why.  Taking the birther front first, setting aside that I personally think it is abundantly clear that President Obama was indeed born in the US and is indeed qualified to hold the office of President as an American, the fact of the matter is that if you buy the poll figures being cited today (and I can identify no obvious reason not to), so do 77% of Americans.  Only 11% take the opposing view, and frankly, 11% does not a majority make-- especially when those 11% are seen as generically bonkers by all but fellow members of that 11% grouping.  Doing or saying things that prima facie look like siding up with the birthers is a bad idea, both in the clear-thinking and the smart-politicking sense, especially when one considers that every minute spent talking about one political topic is a minute that can't be retrieved and spent talking about something else.  That begs a rhetorical question: Which would you, as a voter, rather hear about, the deficit and plans (or lack thereof) to close it (potentially involving your taxes going up or spending you arguably like being cut), or the differences between short form and long form birth certificates, as issued by a state with a population of less than 2 million people?

That question is especially pertinent when you consider the detail of current polling data applicable to the public's approval of the job the President is doing.  As the American Spectator's Phil Klein correctly noted earlier today, "what's driving down Obama's approval ratings are his positions on the issues, not concerns about him personally."  Furthermore:

"he has a 54 percent approval rating overall, while on any given issue, he polls lower: a minority of 42 percent approve of Obama’s handling of health care; just 38 percent approve of his stewardship of the economy; and a mere 32 percent like the way he is handling the budget deficit. Yet if you keep scrolling down you will notice that an overwhelming 74 percent of Americans say they like Obama personally, compared with just 12 percent who say they dislike him."

So, then, Republicans would be smart to uniformly, en masse, talk about the budget deficit and the economy (above all),  given that already 53% of those surveyed disapprove of Obama where those issues, specifically, are concerned, from the current vantage point all the way through to 2010.   Yes, there are some very vocal people out there who may want to talk about Hawaiian paperwork or related tidbits, and yes, there may even be a larger number of people who buy what they have to say within the GOP than what I would like or I think is sensible (and yes, there are members of the media who will want to scrutinize both of those things).  But ultimately, numbers don't lie-- whether we're talking polling data or the deficit, all Republicans (and not just 95% of them) would do well to remember that.  2010 is going to be an important year. [intro]

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