A couple of polls have emerged since the charges of sexual harassment by Herman Cain, a GOP presidential candidate, were first surfaced by POLITICO. The reason the two polls are meaningful is they essentially address the same issue and come to much the same conclusion.
That is, the personal behavior of candidates matters to voters. But, as I’ve observed it over the years, it means less to some voters than others. Oh, by the way, when asked a question about morality, how do you suppose most people will respond? Just sayin’.
But with those caveats let’s take a look. First the Reuters/Ipsos poll:
The poll showed the percentage of Republicans who view Cain favorably dropped 9 percentage points, to 57 percent from 66 percent a week ago.
Among all registered voters, Cain’s favorability declined 5 percentage points, to 32 percent from 37 percent.
The survey represents the first evidence that sexual harassment claims dating from Cain’s time as head of the National Restaurant Association have taken a toll on his presidential campaign.
A majority of respondents, 53 percent, believe sexual harassment allegations against Cain are true despite his denials. Republicans were less likely to believe they are true, with 39 percent thinking they are accurate.
Now I’m not sure yet how anyone can flatly say or believe the allegations are “true” based on what has so far been revealed about the alleged harassment. So far the most we know is that 3 women claim to have been victims of “sexual harassment” and two were paid a sum to settle some sort of harassment claims. And we’ve had one, through her lawyer, anonymously announce she stands by her allegations. But what exactly are those allegations. Are they of the Bob Packwood variety? Or the Bill Clinton variety. Right now we just don’t know.
While one might conclude that something went on then, it still isn’t clear that the allegations are “true”. For instance, one could ask, was it cheaper for the Restaurant Association to pay off these women (most likely without admitting any guilt) than to pay armies of lawyers to fight the charges? We don’t know. And that sort of doubt and uncertainty casts any thoughts of “the allegations are true” out the window. We need a lot more information to put “true” or “false” to this.
But look at the effect it has had. The unfortunate result of politics today. This is hardly uncommon.
The second poll was taken by The Hill.
The results of this week’s The Hill Poll indicate that 85 percent of voters regard the way a politician conducts his or her private life as important to how he or she might discharge public duties. Forty-seven percent regard the candidate’s private life as “very important” and 38 percent say it is “somewhat important” in this regard.
The Hill Poll also suggests that 67 percent of voters feel presidential politics have become dirtier over the past generation, while a mere 4 percent say they have become cleaner. Roughly 1 in 4, or 27 percent, believe the ethical nature of presidential battles has stayed about the same as it was in the past.
Those two points sort of explain the politics of personal destruction. Now I’m again not saying Herman Cain isn’t guilty of sexual harassment. I simply don’t know at this point. But I think the results in the poll point out why such allegations surfaced. I’m of the opinion politics have gotten “dirtier” in the past generation and I think the reason is found in the first paragraph. It is an easy way to knock out a contender or a threat. Its that simple.
Politicians will drop to the lowest level of politicking in heart-beat if they perceive a benefit to them in doing so. And in the last generation we’ve seen leaps of light years in mass communications. It is much easier to get things like these allegations (with little factual support to this point) out there and going viral.
It’s a bit like the utility of saying something in court you know the judge is going to strike down if you’re a lawyer. The judge may order it stricken from the record and tell the jury to disregard what was said, but we all know you can’t do that no matter how the judge insists. The statement just lays there. Once out of the jar, it can’t be put back in.
Secondly, this sort of an allegation has a tendency to have a weird bandwagon effect. Remember Tiger Woods and his infidelity? As soon as the name of one woman surfaced, women from all over raised their hands and said “me too”! I’m not alleging Cain is like Woods, I’m just pointing out a phenomenon that’s fairly common. In the case of Cain, these allegations may bring others out who may or may not have a valid claim, but whose mere surfacing will lend credibility to the former allegations.
Again, a technique that’s been used successfully in the past in all sorts of ways.
Which brings me to the question, where did these allegations come from. I know they were published in a story by POLITICO, but few if any reporters sniff out stuff like this. They’re usually handed a tip by someone. Cain’s campaign immediately claimed it was Rick Perry’s campaign. The usual denials took place and the Cain campaign backed off.
Cain’s campaign knew this was coming 10 days before it was published. They did absolutely nothing to address it or try to diminish its impact. That either speaks of political naivety or the belief that there was no substance to the reported allegations (which brings us back to point one about political naivety). Consequently when it hit, it hit hard and the polls show the result. For someone, I’d guess, that was the desired result.
Oh, and one more little fact from the Hill poll that is a huge factor in all of this:
News organizations are viewed poorly in terms of political neutrality and their broader ethical conduct.
Gee, there’s a surprise, no?
It will be interesting to see whether Cain can weather these allegations and regain his momentum. But the fact that he’s battling nebulous allegations of decades old sexual harassment claims certainly gives me an idea of the type of campaign we’ll witness in the coming 12 months.
If you thought it was dirty out there in politics land before, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
UPDATE: The bandwagon effect.