Sunday, June 19, 2011

Polls don't matter

The pendulum is a-swingin', the tides are a-turnin', and the times they are a-changin'.

After six months of near-daily reminders of what it means to have Republicans in power, the short-sighted masses are slowly gravitating back toward the Democratic Party.

Gallup's latest party affiliation poll shows a six-point spread between Americans who identify as Democrats versus Republicans, up from a tie in August, 2010. It is the highest margin since October 2009.

As any politician will tell you (when he's down), polls don't matter. That said, Gallup's study is based on a data pool of 30,000 poll respondents and has a margin of error of plus or minus one, making refutation impossible despite what one might predict will be many fervent attempts by those whose political reputations, platforms, and ideologies are negatively reinforced by these statistics.

Unlike the philosopher, who, if wise, would reflect on causation and his individual role in knowingly or unknowingly, directly or indirectly, creating or influencing such an outcome, the Republican, if he acknowledges this data at all, if wise, would respectfully decline to entertain the notion that there are consequences in life – that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction – and instead sidestep all accountability while casually rifling through his bottomless satchel of excuses in search of theater props to wave in the air as a distraction for his audience before launching into an emotional and heartfelt homily about victimization at the hands of the unpatriotic legislative demagogues on the left.

It has been said that a good politician is like an honest burglar (Henry Louis Mencken). But stupid the politician is not, which is to say that any Republican who reacts to Gallup's statistics will not do so publicly, and likely not voluntarily even if cornered privately.

What this latest polling data forecasts for 2012 would, in theory, depend entirely on the party affiliation of its interpreters, but that assumes that there are interpreters willing to say what this data forecasts for 2012. As of this writing, there aren't – and for good reason.

A Democrat who highlights such studies as a case-in-point argument about what happens when ideologues spend eight months actively disenfranchising essentially every voting demographic in the country runs the risk of appearing to the public as the proverbial flogger of long-departed steeds.

The Republican who highlights such statistics must lie, and therefore run the risk of appearing to the public as the proverbial politician.

A nonpartisan observer, by contrast, could look at this data, ingest it, absorb it, reflect on it, internalize it and eventually conclude – through pure, objective reason – that these statistics are not surprising in the least considering that the party who is losing ground among prospective constituents has spent the last eight months attacking labor union rights, attempting to redefine rape, seeking legislation to kill family planning agencies and public radio, fighting to undermine a woman's right to choose, withholding federal disaster relief, trying to destroy the regulatory oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency, denying insurance to the unemployed, lauding policies that discriminate against homosexuals in the military, and threatening a government shutdown every time tax cuts for the rich are questioned or massive budget cuts are ridiculed as irresponsible policy during a still-sputtering economic recovery. Add to this list of priorities the recent push by congressional Republicans to privatize Medicare, and even party leaders should have no trouble understanding why voters are migrating toward the Democratic Party.

I'm not that non-partisan observer, mind you. I believe that being apolitical constitutes patriotic neglect, particularly in an excessively bisected political environment such as this, when so much is on the line and where, as the average American can attest, there is so little left to lose. But then again, I'm no patriot – at least not by modern standards.

The truth is, no one can read into these poll numbers and say that Democrats will continue to see an increase in supporters, that this data represents the beginning – an awakening, if you will – of some leftward movement that will lead to President Obama's re-election, or that this is evidence that Democrats have solid odds in taking back majority control of the House in 2012.

Photograph of the Republican candidate who can
beat Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential race.

There are only two things that are empirically evident from this poll: One, that Democrats have nearly doubled their 2011 favorability average in Gallup's party affiliation rating over Republicans since Republicans took majority control of Congress, even without the popularity boost President Obama (and the Democratic Party by proxy) received after killing Osama bin Laden; and Two, that, based on their previous actions, Republicans are likely to ignore the results of this single poll just as they did every "isolated incident" of public opinion conducted since the midterm election, whether it shows that 78 percent of Americans supported the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell," that 59 percent support increasing taxes on the rich, that only 20 percent believe abortion should be illegal, that 61 percent support labor union rights, that a consistent and strong majority oppose privatizing Medicare, or that Americans support the Democratic Party to the Republican Party 45 to 39 percent.

The pendulum may be a-swingin', the tides may be a-turnin', and the times may be a-changin', but that doesn't mean our elected representatives in Congress are anywhere near reaching a consensus about which party the electorate trusts most to run the country and determine domestic and fiscal policy.

After all, polls don't matter.

(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.)

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