Polls, Pols, and Timing

Ballot box 2

There are 517 days until the next general election. 517.  That is almost 17 months.  Or, to illustrate it another way, an infant born today will be walking at the time the election comes around, and the little darling will be feeding itself (sort of, if you count spaghetti “worm wrestling” as a form of feeding).  By 18 months the toddler will have about a 20 word vocabulary, to apply along with an assortment of noises, some of which will be comprehensible.  Our toddling little newbie will also be a master of mimicry – which is fine if we’re talking about wiping a table with a sponge, not so fine if it’s an antique hardwood table.  In other words – it’s a LONG time before the next presidential/general election.  There are some things we can do as “consumers” of election and political news which can help make the 2016 experience more positive.

#1. Insist on the development of ISSUES.  For example, what is the best way to promote the growth of the American economy.  This is a long established issue, but remember, we want the development of this issue, not merely a collection of sound bites and dog whistles, and in a rational world this is the appropriate time for the parties to prepare the general outlines of their specific proposals.  Contrary to the common media offering of “What will Candidate X’s statement on job creation mean for blue collar voters?” think about what economic philosophy is the Candidate espousing?  Once the philosophy is clarified then individual proposals can be evaluated on the basis of how they will affect crucial elements of our economy and not merely for select electoral groups.  Consider the source.

Unfortunately, those who get air time, and the attention of punditry, are those who are dramatic, flashy, confrontational — or “newsworthy.”  Is that dramatic, flashy, confrontational candidate really the standard bearer for the party?  If not, then all that’s been accomplished from the issue development side of the ledger is the addition of much bombast and hot air.  This, like the tantrum of a not-quite-two year old, can be safely dealt with by taking a few deep breaths and staying calm.

#2. Insist on transparency.  In an era of “dark money” we need to know if the candidate is being manipulated by large donors of the Super Pac variety. Again, this far out from the general election, it’s still ‘finance’ time for the candidates.   And, in terms of finance, do I want to cast my vote for an individual who is receiving massive amounts of money from sources which are unidentified? Perhaps, it’s more important at this point in time to know to whom candidates (especially presidential aspirants) are speaking than exactly what they say.

Let’s assume at this early date that the candidates will say what they perceive the audience wants to hear – because the candidates are not necessarily there to propose profound ideas – but to collect money.  Buzz words beget buzz and buzz opens billfolds.

#3. Ignore polling. Of all my gripes with modern cable news, the persistence of polling and the reports of polling, heads the list.  17 months out from a general election the only thing we learn from polling is the level of a candidate’s name recognition.   Recognition is a long long way from establishing a ‘brand’ and even further from creating ‘identification’ on the part of the voting public.  I am about to decide that the level of poll reporting done by a media outlet is an indication of its general lack of resources and talent. The more polling reports the greater the paucity of resources and the less imaginative and intelligent the management.

And, herein I’ll give Secretary Clinton some props.

One of the more interesting bits of whining from the D.C. media came from Politico’s publication of Glenn Thrush’s ear-splitting screed about how Secretary Clinton ‘hates the press.’   There is a time for more media access, but 17 months out from a presidential election  isn’t it.  This, for politicians behaving like adults, is the time for dealing with finances and issue development.

Politico also seemed distressed that when Secretary Clinton recently visited Iowa she focused on “preaching to the choir,” in “controlled environments.”  Of course she met with “activists.” Who else does one meet with to set up the ‘ground game’ and seek donations?  Could we also say that when three Republican governors met with mega-donor Sheldon Adelson in late March, the candidates were “preaching to the choir in a controlled environment?”  Of course they were – it’s what candidates do at this stage of the game.

Speaking of issues – the only time we’ll see the entire project launched in a single moment is in a shipyard. Otherwise, we’ll see proposals rolled out one at a time; especially when there’s an advantage to be gained by putting the opposition on the defensive.  On Thursday, June 4, Secretary Clinton released her proposals concerning the expansion of voting rights.  Republicans, who’ve been hard pressed to find significant examples of voter fraud, were caught without a clear response:

“The result is a dynamic in which Republicans are outraged by an ambitious Clinton proposal, for reasons they have not yet identified. Christie thinks voter fraud is a massive problem in New Jersey, which isn’t true, and under the circumstances, isn’t entirely relevant. Perry thinks the status quo in Texas is already great, which would come as news to the 600,000 people the Republican governor helped disenfranchise. Kasich is worried about being “divisive,” as if expanded voting access is somehow inherently acrimonious.” [Benen]

Governor Scott Walker opined that the proposal was out of the mainstream and defied logic – although he couldn’t explain why or how. [Benen]  When issue positions are carefully crafted, and selectively timed, the result is usually good, i.e. the opponents are on the defensive, and “when you’re explaining, you’re losing.”

Thus far the Clinton Campaign has done a good job of staying on target, not rushing the timing, and not clamoring for any more attention from the press than is necessary to get selected messages out while concentrating on the issue development and financial aspects of the campaign.  (Don’t worry, I’ll have kind things to say about Senator Bernie Sanders later, but I think he’s running a very different model of campaigning.)

In the mean time, as those toddlers start walking and feeding themselves, the Beltway Media may want to take some time to review the structure and timing of politicians and campaigns, and not become too enamored of explaining and analyzing their own somewhat worthless polling.

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