In reading about and commenting on politics and public policy, I find polls to be the most irritating and useless of news hooks. Today the latest Gallup Poll indicating Hillary Clinton’s increasing unfavorability has been widely reported in columns and articles including those by Dick Morris and Eileen McGann as well as Ian Bishop. The Gallup Poll that is the source of these items is here.
What’s wrong with the commentary on the poll, if not the poll itself? The poll is based on a survey of 1000 adults. Morris and McGann comment in their column that the poll reflects that “for the first time, [Clinton’s] low likeability levels are costing her votes, as Democratic party voters are abandoning her to support Barack Obama.” Their commentary seems misleading not just because no votes have been cast, but because the poll is one of adults rather than likely voters, a substantial percentage of whom will not turn out for caucuses or vote in primaries when the time comes. Of the respondents who identified themselves as Democrats among the 1,000 adults, the Democratic preferences are based on 504 Democrats and Democratic leaners, a substantial percentage of whom (to repeat) will not vote. This is an awfully slim reed on which to hang anything of substance.
Moreover, the race will be influenced by Democratic caucus goers (an even more select group than voters) and primary voters in states including Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina and possibly Florida and/or Michigan before the critical February 5 Super Tuesday quasi-national primary. Clinton may be doing better or worse than the Gallup Poll results suggest in the early states among the prospective voters and caucus goers. The Gallup Poll can’t provide much of a clue, though Barry Casselman reporting from Iowa confirms its sense.
The Clinton machine is obviously stumped for the moment about how to deal with Obama. But my sense, Casselman to the contrary notwithstanding, is that the candidates other than Obama are not much more than nuisances for Clinton, who is a plausible presidential candidate, while Obama is not. And that the Clinton machine is relentless, unconstrained by conscience, and will prevail. It will then tap Obama to fill out the bottom of a formidable ticket. For the moment, I think “my sense” is worth about as much as the Gallup Poll.
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