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April 10, 2006

The Antidote to Pollster-Induced Paralysis
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Joe Klein has an excellent column about the Democratic Party’s pollster-induced paralysis. It got me thinking. A favorite talking point of Democrats is that Americans agree with Democrat policies across the board – abortion, the economy, taxes, education, environment, health care, college tuition, outsourcing, etc. It’s a rather tiresome talking point because it gets things backwards.

Democrats, apparently, are still struggling to learn the most important – and rather obvious – lesson of the last five years of electioneering. Policy prescriptions (for the most part) don’t matter that much. When people vote they don’t ask themselves “who has the most detailed, wonkish policy on health care?” They ask, “which one of these guys do I believe in ?” Or, alternately, since it’s very hard to believe politicians these days, “which one of these guys do I want to believe in ?” “Which one of these guys do I feel comfortable with ?” Of course, Republicans have consultants and pollsters but they act – perception is everything – like they don’t.

If Democrats are right about everything then the inverse of that, presumably, is that Republicans are wrong about everything. Yet Republicans have, over the last 5 years (or, in Congress, the last 12 years), been more successful than Democrats in getting people to vote for them. Hmmm. To quote Leon Festinger, “the existence of dissonance, being psychologically uncomfortable, will motivate the person to try to reduce the dissonance and achieve consonance.” In other words, people tend to try to reconcile themselves to reality. This, in the case of the Democrats, can be done through two rationalization techniques:

1) “False Consciousness”: Americans who vote Republican are woefully unaware of their own rational self-interest, the implication being that they’re…ummm…irrational or, worse, stupid or 2) there are actually sound, comprehensible reasons why people choose not to vote Democrat. I think reason #2 is a bit more promising.

The Bush administration has gotten itself on the wrong side of nearly every important issue over the last few years. It’s almost as if they’re purposely aiming for failure. Yet last week, during a town hall meeting, someone by the name of Harry Taylor blasted Bush, giving him a grievance laundry list and I thought to myself, well, “ouch.” Bush tensed up, frowned. He refused to apologize for his actions. He “stood his ground” and went right back at Taylor. Yes, there’s something very troubling about someone who is congenitally unable to admit even one mistake – ever. But at the same time you had to respect, however grudgingly, Bush’s refusal to finesse the question into oblivion. No focus groups there. No consultants. You can hate Bush, but at least, as they say, “you’ll always know where he stands.”

So, anyway, Klein’s article is a must read. It zeroes in on the key reasons behind the 2000/2004 debacles, respectively. Every time Gore or Kerry did or said something it had to be orchestrated, managed, controlled, and fudged by an army of handlers. So while you might have agreed with Gore or Kerry on policy, something didn’t quite feel right. Lesson: No more foreign policy by focus group. We are allowed to take positions that most Americans don’t agree with. We don’t always have to be in line with what the majority of Americans say they think when some polling service calls them. People don’t have to agree with us but they’ll respect us for believing in something (as long as we actually believe it). 



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Heck, we Democrats are already thought of as the anti-Christ, why not stand up and be proud of it?!

The winner [of the 2008 Presidential election] will be the candidate who comes closest to this model: a politician who refuses to be a "performer," at least in the current sense. Who speaks but doesn't orate. Who never holds a press conference on or in front of an aircraft carrier. Who doesn't assume the public is stupid or uncaring.

All of these predictions are already wrong. McCain is the candidate who best fits Klein's criteria, and he's already going into "crazy base world" because he needs the religious right.

BTW, I have never heard of a political consultant -- Republican or Democrat -- who didn't have contempt for the American people, and for good reason. Their whole lives are spent gluing 'Made in USA' labels over 'Made in China' because appearances are everything.

"Politics is TV with the sound turned off." -- Karl Rove

Please, there is no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. Rank and file Democrats in the heartland should be running our party rather than allowing a bunch of liberals to run it. The liberals should be marginilized on the left of our party and the conservative DLC on the right and heartland democrats should be the ones determining the direction of our party.

Both liberals and neo-cons want to remake our country in THEIR image and they regularly trash American culture and daily attack Christians.

They are telling scary things about what christians believe but they hold the same beliefs that they have held for over 200 years. The NYT on Monday reported that the Christian right is bankrupt and millions in debt. Funny how the neo-cons are still humming along isn't it but christians are still scapegoated for neo-con policies!!!

The philosophy of Leo Strauss was that if you wish to do away with the old ruling elites and put yourself in their place then you attack the culture, tradition and history. Everything we see both neo-cons and liberals doing. They are flip sides of the same coin.

Its amazing how many leftwing dittoheads there are in this country and they now define the Democratic party according to the propaganda of liberals out of the northeast and CA.

Lefty dittoheads pay close attention to what leo strauss said and if someone is attacking the Christians or ridiculing the remembering our own history then you better question what they say rather than swallow it whole


Here we find one of the reasons for the attraction of Strauss's celebrated rejection of "historicism." What seems to the superficial reader to be part of a defense of traditional "higher values" actually amounts to a discrediting of those parts of the old Western civilization that stand in the way of the new elite. By making respect for history and "convention" seem philosophically disreputable and even nefarious, Strauss disputes the right of lingering traditional elites to rule. To the extent that he nevertheless manages to appeal to representatives of the old order, he is, in effect, teaching them to despise themselves. To Straussians who are fully alert to the anti-traditional aim of anti-historicism, it is undoubtedly a source of both amusement and contempt that many putative defenders of tradition seem not to suspect what is happening but are happily contributing to the destruction of their own culture.


Al Gore represents the old established ruling class and John Kerry the new. Elites in the democratic party told gore they would not support him and without party money and perks he was forced to drop out and we got Kerry even tho he represented NO opposition to republicans and the Iraqi war was the main issue among democrats.

read it and weep.

Rahm Emanuel is the democrat who will choose the next official candidates for democrats. No wonder hillary doesn't care if the people support her or not. Just as long as Rham Emanuel and the zionists like her thats all that matters. Tell me I'm wrong.

Neo-cons understand that by using the Christian right that Christianity will come under attack and Jesus will be dragged though the mud. Sure enough they certainly could count on the liberals couldn't they?

Are we seeing the Democratization of the middle east or the Israelization of the US?

Your assumption is that Americans will vote for someone "they feel comfortable with" over someone "with wonkish policy answers."

Now, I'm assuming you voted Democrat in the last election, so isn't it condescending to assume that "mainstream America" isn't as interested in policy, nuance, and detail as you are? Seems like you're doing a huge disservice to the American people.

By the way, do you have a background in psychology?

Quote: " But at the same time you had to respect, however grudgingly, Bush’s refusal to finesse the question into oblivion. No focus groups there. No consultants. You can hate Bush, but at least, as they say, “you’ll always know where he stands.” "


In the history of the country, this administration is the most closely managed, the most reliant on polling and publicity and image. (Ironically, the widely-held notion that Bush is an authentic man of conviction is in fact a product of that spin machine...)

The underlying problem with Dems rallying behind a candidate who "authentically knows where he stands" is that any candidate that makes it through the primaries is going to be seduced by an cohort of political professionals, the very managers that you so resent.

These experts are pesuasive. They have research and experience to back each of their claims on where a candidate must stand on each issue. And--substantively speaking--these pros usually _are_ right about which positions win elections.

However, following their advice works for certain candidates (e.g. Bush, Clinton) but not for others (e.g. Kerry). Bush was just as closely managed as Kerry, but somehow came off as authentic whereas Kerry came off as phony. Why is that?

I would submit that it has something to do with the particular personality of the candidate, but probably more to do with the way the press covers them.


Polls are fine and good for touting your successes with the electorate or for whittling away your opponent's credibility prior to election day but the fact of the matter is that the only polls that count are on election day.

With regard to Republican successes in the House and Senate the past 12 years, I would contend that the Republican party is managed much better than the Democratic party in that it actually tries function as a unit before, during and after election day. Democrats don't generally vote as a bloc, Republicans do.
Similarly, the Democratic party has lost credibility because it has by and large come to be seen as a loose federation of politicians, more concerned with catering to special interests than with taking care of meat and potatoes legislation. Put yourself in Kansas. Who really gives a shit what two gay guys in Massachusetts do when you believe your taxes are too high?

Carl, I'll give you that the Bush campaign in 2004 was a very closely managed campaign, but the current Bush administration is, to my knowledge, much less reliant than the previous three administrations (Reagan, 41, and Clinton) on using polling data to shape the image of the Executive.

The winner [of the 2008 Presidential election] will be the candidate who comes closest to this model: a politician who refuses to be a "performer," at least in the current sense. Who speaks but doesn't orate. Who never holds a press conference on or in front of an aircraft carrier. Who doesn't assume the public is stupid or uncaring.

Sincerity is the key. When you can fake that you can fake anything.

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