Free Markets, Free People

James Carville

There are polls and then there are polls

As I’ve said repeatedly over the years, candidate vs. candidate polls are virtually useless this far out from an election (9 months).

There’s little reason to pay attention to them.  So when you see these:

Obama 49.0%
Romney 43.3%

Obama 50.0%
Santorum 42.5%

Obama 53.0%
Gingrich 39.1%

Obama 48.6 %
Paul 40.4%

Remember this:

[I]n January 1980, the Gallup Poll showed:

Carter 63%
Reagan 32%

And, of course, there are plenty of other examples of those sorts of polls to be found if you look.

That said, there are polls that are indicators because they provide a history that lends itself to identifying whether or not an incumbent is actually in trouble or not.  The candidate v. candidate polls above really don’t.  We’re still in the early stages of nominating a candidate for one party and the focus has yet to really turn on the incumbent.  Numbers will change, I suspect fairly dramatically, when that happens.  And, to this point, I’d suggest that most of the country isn’t yet engaged in the presidential race.  That will happen 6 months from now when you can begin to pay attention to those polls pitting candidate against candidate.

But to those polls that matter, or at least point to historical trends, etc.  Here’s one:

It’s February, nine months before a presidential election, and only 22 percent of Americans say they are satisfied with the way things are going.  Voters haven’t been this unhappy with the country since George H.W. Bush’s presidency, when only 21 percent of Americans reported being happy with the country’s direction. And before that, the lowest approval rating was 19 percent during Jimmy Carter’s first term.

What do the two presidencies have in common? Neither of them won re-election. And, if the trends holds true, Obama looks to be in an equally precarious situation.

The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research released its 2012 campaign outlook, and it’s clear Obama’s sitting in the same position George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter were in during the February before their election losses—voters don’t feel good about the country.

So when I hear Democratic strategists like James Carville saying things like this …

The only way the president will lose according to Carville is if some event takes place and changes things.  He maintained it wouldn’t be the result of the GOP nominee outshining Obama.

“Right now, things are starting to perk up a little bit,” he said. “Who knows? This is the — no Republican can beat Obama. Events can beat Obama. He’s not going to get beat by a Republican. Now events could come in and cause him to lose the election. But that’s it right now. That was not the case three months ago.”

… I laugh.  This is pure “whistling past the graveyard” and political spin.  Carville is engaged in psychological warfare here.  He wants everyone to believe the worm has turned and it is all sunlight and roses for his candidate.

If dissatisfaction can be called an “event”, then that’s the event which should put Obama exactly where he belongs in November  – planning for his presidential library in 2013.

Carville knows as well as anyone that at this point in the process, his choice for re-election has gone almost unscathed and his record mostly unscrutinized.   But that will change and it will change dramatically in a few months.  And about that time, the focus of the nation will begin to turn to national politics. 

The fact remains that the American public is not happy and when it is not happy it tends to not reelect its president.  That is the “event” this president faces.   And my guess is, when the GOP finally settles on its candidate, OMG (Obama Must Go) will be the driving “event” which determines the election.

Carville says “no Republican” can beat Obama?  I disagree.  In the end, any Republican can beat Obama.  Some by larger margins than others, certainly.  But that’s my prediction.  The Democrats really haven’t a clue about the level of dissatisfaction that exists with this president.

Even the president most demonized by the left had better numbers than Obama does.  At the January SOTU prior to his 2004 re-election run, George W. Bush enjoyed a 41% satisfaction rate (as did Ronald Regan and Bill Clinton).  As noted, Obama is at 22%, 3 points above the president almost universally identified as our worst modern president.

Let’s see if James Carville is still laughing after the “event” it November.  My guess would be “no”.


Twitter: @McQandO

Because It Has Worked So Well To This Point

James Carville, a Democratic consultant who is usually wrong about everything manages to be wrong again.  However, I have to admit to hoping Democrats and President Obama take his advice:

Contrary to what you might think, I am a proud member of the pro finger-pointing caucus. It wasn’t too long ago that my longtime colleague Paul Begala and I urged our friends on the other side of the aisle to engage early and often in the blame game.

Now it is the Democrats’ turn. Point fingers is exactly what Democrats have done following Republican Scott Brown’s surprise victory in Massachusetts, and the subsequent setback for healthcare reform .

The White House, Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts attorney-general, Celinda Lake, her pollster, congressional Democrats, the Democratic National Committee, Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, and Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, are just a few of the circular firing squad that has sucked up every last breath in Washington this past week.


Democrats would not be playing the blame game with one another for the loss or for the healthcare debacle if they had only pointed fingers at those (or in this case, the one) who put Americans (and most of the world) in the predicament we’re in: George W. Bush.

Really? Pointing the finger at Bush is panacea for all that ails the Democrats?

Pretty simplistic pap, wouldn’t you say? Martha Coakley could have stood at a podium 24/7 and talked about the demon George Bush and how he’s laid us low, but that wouldn’t change the fact that the Democrats owned the pork laden stimulus bill, the latest bacon bonanza of a spending bill, the economy killing (and thankfully languishing) cap-and-trade bill and the health care reform monstrosity, would it?

Blaming Bush seems so wussy. Like the playground habit of pointing your finger at a playmate and claiming the situation in which you’re caught to be of his making.  “He did it”. There’s a natural aversion to condoning that sort of blame shifting. It just doesn’t sit will with most people.

But Democrats, at least until recently, have believed the Carville route to the be one which would insulate them from criticism. Lay it on the previous guy and you will be covered.  MA, NJ and VA give some glimmer as to how well that’s worked so far, don’t they?  Some Democratic advisers are seeing that as a loser now:

Howard Wolfson, a senior official on Hillary Clinton’s campaign and veteran Democratic communications guru, noted that his party was able to run against Republican Herbert Hoover’s Depression-era presidency for 30 years.

“That doesn’t seem to be the case here,” he said.

Indeed it doesn’t. In fact, my guess is it tends to alienate voters because it is such a cheesy, infantile excuse. Most people understand that some of the troubles the country face didn’t happen under this administration’s watch. And they also understand they were “inherited”. But for heaven sake, does that have to be said each an every time you address a problem? If that’s not bad enough, how about trying to blame current problems that are indeed a result of Democratic policies on the previous administration? It is preposterous, tiresome and unworthy of an administration which would like to be considered seriously. How can you take seriously people who continually blame others and won’t take responsibility and ownership now that they’re in charge?

“Voters are pretty tired of the blame game,” said longtime Democratic strategist Steve Hildebrand, a top aide on Obama’s presidential campaign. “What a stupid strategy that was.”

“Was?” According to Carville, it should be an “is” strategy. And to an extent he’s right, although he doesn’t make the clear in his advice. How can “blame Bush” card be effectively played? Very selectively in relevant elections – but certainly not as a wild card for everything.

“It’s got to be highly relevant,” said pollster Joel Benenson. “It has to be done in a way that’s not gratuitous and on issues that affect people’s lives. You can’t just brandish [Bush’s image] and wave it like a pennant.”

“Voters are smart about this,” added pollster Geoff Garin. “There’s got to be some credible relationship, either in terms of how they voted or [in terms of] specific policies that they’re supporting now.”

It’s not, Garin continued, one size fits all, but for some GOP candidates, the line of attack still carries some promise. He cited Rep. Roy Blunt, a House majority whip in the Bush years who is now running for a Missouri Senate seat, and former Rep. Rob Portman, who served as Bush’s budget director and is now running for the Senate in Ohio.

“Those people were really present at the creation, and making the case against them as helping to create the Bush economy is still very powerful,” Garin said.

Those two cases are two in which the “blame Bush” card might have some relevance. But my guess is it would have a very limited effect. Bush is gone, and frankly, Obama has some voters pining for him. In effect, depending on how the Obama presidency proceeds, it could end up backfiring on those who use it, even in relevant cases. It is the “now” that voters concern themselves with. That means they relate their condition to who is in charge now as well. Most are going to consider the blame game a pretty poor attempt to divert attention rather than facing the problems at hand. And voters rarely reward those they think are avoiding the issues via distraction.

So despite saying how lame I think Carville’s advice is, I have to hope the heck the Democrats heed it and double down on the blame Bush strategy. It will drive independents crazy and into the arms of the GOP faster than “Pants on the Ground” went viral.