Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The electability campaign against Hillary Clinton

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Although a more scientific poll conducted by Gallup "finds Sen. Hillary Clinton with a slim but not statistically significant advantage over both former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain in head-to-head matchups for the 2008 general election for president," as well as with "much more substantial leads over former Sen. Fred Thompson and former Gov. Mitt Romney, and polling better against Giuliani and McCain than Obama, there is much ado at the moment in response to rather more dubious online Zogby poll of "individuals who have registered to take part in online polls":

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton trails five top Republican presidential contenders in general election match-ups, a drop in support from this summer, according to a poll released on Monday.

Clinton's top Democratic rivals, Barack Obama and John Edwards, still lead Republicans in hypothetical match-ups ahead of the November 4, 2008, presidential election, the survey by Zogby Interactive showed.

Clinton, a New York senator who has been at the top of the Democratic pack in national polls in the 2008 race, trails Republican candidates Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, John McCain and Mike Huckabee by three to five percentage points in the direct matches.

This is infuriating, indeed, more infuriating that most such polls. The Zogby poll essentially means nothing. It is an unscientific poll of online Zogby users. That is all. The question must be asked: Who are these people? And why do they matter?

The problem, however, is not just the nature of the poll but the dubious conclusions that are already being drawn both by the media and by their puppeteers on the right. And what key conclusion is being drawn? Why, that Clinton is unelectable, of course, or at least that her seeming unelectability is a major obstacle both for her and for the Democratic Party heading into next year's primaries and, should she win, general election campaign.

While it is true that Clinton's electability -- and it's not quite clear what that even means; it's become little more than a popular epithet tossed around without much regard for substance -- has been an issue, and while it is true that Clinton is opposed by many who will not vote for her no matter what, this is largely a manufactured "problem" for her and her party.

Instead of engaging her on the issues, and on her policy positions, many of her critics are bringing up her supposed unelectability as a reason not to support her. (Remember that one of John Kerry's supposed virtues was his supposed electability.) Either that, or supposedly neutral observers are reading far too much into dubious numbers. Take Zogby himelf: "The questions about her electability have always been there, but as we get close this suggests that is a problem." Really? Is this a real problem? Or just a problem because people like Zogby -- and the unelectability meme is parrotted everywhere -- say it is?

To explain this phenomenon further, let me turn to NMMNB's Steve M., who puts it well:

The obvious -- and wrong -- conclusion to draw is that Hillary is the least electable of the three leading Democrats. The correct conclusion to draw is that it's absurdly easy to drive the supposedly inevitable Democratic nominee, whoever that may turn out to be, into a position where he or she is trailing the Republican -- yes, even this year. All it takes is a sustained (even briefly sustained) run of bad press for the Democrat. When something like this happens, it's inevitably amplified by fellow Democrats in their usual circular-firing-squad mode (and don't think that'll stop after the nominee is chosen, because it never does), while the GOP, the right-wing media, and the supposedly neutral but really Democrat-loathing mainstream media seize on the bad press (when they're not initiating it) and sustain it until the nominee is badly tainted.

It happened to Hillary Clinton over the past few weeks -- and if she's not the nominee, it will happen to whoever beats her.

And, meanwhile, no Democrat is doing an effective job of framing any Republican, or the party as a whole, and no negative story about any Republican candidate has legs -- even Giuliani's Kerik/Regan mess.

I'll be shocked if a Democrat wins this election -- any Democrat.

Actually, I'm not sure I'd go that far. I think "any Democrat" (Clinton or Obama) has a good shot next year. But it won't be easy.

And it won't be easy not just because of the Republicans and their dirty tricks but because of pollsters like Zogby and a media establishment that is, in essence, a mouthpiece for the right-wing spin machine.

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  • I will go that far - I predict a Republican victory, legitimate or otherwise. If you treat our election process as theater of the absurd, predictions are easy.

    By Blogger Capt. Fogg, at 8:49 AM  

  • I'll be shocked if a Democrat wins this election -- any Democrat.

    Actually, I am somewhat confused by this statement. Recent polls comparing a "generic" Democrat against the current field of GOP candidates shows the Democrat winning. When an actual Democrat is pitted against this field, the numbers decline but still favor the Democrat. So what does this anomaly in voter sentiment tell us? Dissatisfaction with Republican rule is real and palpable, and there is no candidate in the fold of either party who truly resonates with voters.

    The concern -- that primary contests leave the winning candidate too bruised to win a general election -- is legitimate. It is obvious, for instance, that Ralph Nader siphoned away the comfortable margin that should have given the election to Al Gore. Little is written, however, about the contest between Gore and Bradley during Primary Year 2000, and how this challenge may have also compromised Gore’s chances. Did Bradley’s challenge embolden Nader to act as spoiler? Did "Clinton fatigue" cause voters to abandon Gore?

    I saw the same phenomenon take place in 1968. The heir-apparent to the Johnson presidency was Hubert Humphrey. Against a field of anti-war candidates during turbulent times, Humphrey found himself caught in the Catch 22 of all Vice-Presidents who want to succeed an unpopular boss: Humphrey was unable to declare his independence from Johnson. Humphrey lost the election to Richard Nixon, and the Vietnam War continued for another 6 years.

    It may be too early to draw conclusions. After all, we are still one year away from Election 2008, and history has taught us some bitter lessons. The best candidate does not always win.

    The fault may not be the candidate. Have American voters learned anything from history?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:40 AM  

  • By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:36 PM  

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