Friday, June 24, 2011

Apathy and loathing on the 2012 campaign trail

Barack Obama may be leading Mitt Romney and the rest of the Republican presidential hopefuls in one-on-one matchups, but if the GOP finds a generic Republican without a face, a name, a history or a legislative record, Obama is toast.

A new Gallup poll shows Obama as the 5-point underdog to "a Republican," which the investigative reporters at Wonkette point out would spell trouble for the incumbent "if there were any Republicans running for president."

Previous surveys put Romney and Tim Pawlenty 6 and 11 points behind Obama, respectively. But when asked to vote for "a Republican," Obama's edge is reversed.

It seems the Republican-leaning poll respondents are making the allusive statement that they prefer no candidate to any currently being offered. That, or they're hoping that a real Republican will emerge before primary season officially kicks off in February 2012 – someone who embodies the conservative principles of the Republican Party but who needn't pander to corporations, zealots, bigots, and radicals as a prerequisite for public office. Also in a perfect world, bees wouldn't have stingers, trees would rake their own leaves, Democrats would have spines, and wannabe voters would have to pass aptitude tests in order to cast a ballot.

Understandably, nobody is quite sure how to interpret these contradictory polls. How ought the media report a series of surveys showing that grocery store shoppers preferred paper over plastic in one poll but in another poll preferred "no bags" to paper bags?

The electorate either is confused or apathetic. In either case, a more telling survey might ask the question, "Does it matter who is elected president in 2012?" It wouldn't be any more revealing than the polls we have now – one wouldn't need the experience of a legislative whip or the clairvoyance of a fortune teller to make an educated guess about how the data would turn out – but it might serve as a reminder to our elected officials that, as a wise man once said, the government isn't only "of the people and by the people," it's also supposed to be for the people.

The fact that nearly one in five Americans doesn't have a preference when it comes to electing the next president should be a clear sign to every candidate – whether an incumbent or a challenger, a Democrat or a Republican, a socialist or a teabagger – that we expect more than from our elected representatives than the options they're currently providing.

(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.)

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