Spotted lily

Spotted lily

Monday, August 24, 2015

Poll Respondents Say the Darndest Things

The news these days is full of polling data related to the 2016 presidential campaign. Because it is so early in the process, with well over a year before the election, I don’t know how much any of these surveys really mean at this point. Still, it would seem that the current polls should at least tell us something about what people are thinking now and how they approach determining which candidates they might support. I don’t generally follow polls too closely, but I am rather unsettled by what some of the things I have seen might indicate.

In general, I have some concerns about the overall poll numbers for many of the Republican presidential candidates. As I discussed in my previous post, the continuing lead of Donald Trump is particularly vexing, but I’m also disappointed that other contenders have lost ground and that some fairly well known and solid candidates have almost no support in the polls.

For one thing, it seems that, for now at least, a considerable portion of the public is passing over the more traditional candidates in the race and is favoring those without government experience instead. I realize that there is much dissatisfaction with things happening (or not happening) in Washington and with politicians more generally, and that is understandable. However, I’d be hesitant to give someone one of the most important and powerful jobs in the world as his or her first role in public office. This is not to say that some of these “outsider” candidates don’t have good qualities. Dr. Ben Carson seems very smart and accomplished, and Carly Fiorina was very well-prepared and commanding in the recent debate. It’s unfortunate that the voters of California did not choose to send her to the U.S. Senate instead of re-electing Barbara Boxer, and either of these Republican presidential hopefuls would be vastly preferable to another liberal Democrat.

Still, I confess to personally thinking of current or former officeholders as more qualified and “legitimate” presidential candidates. I also generally share the inclination towards seeing those who have been governors as perhaps the first group to consider when seeking a nominee, because, having been the political executive in charge of running a sizable government, they seem to have the most relevant experience. However, I do not discount those who have served as Senators or members of the House of Representatives, as they have already been involved in the activities of the federal government and have worked with the national issues the future president will need to address. Since the Republican field has no shortage of candidates from either of these categories, I would find it reassuring to see more support for experienced politicians and less for nontraditional candidates in the polls, but obviously many people do not feel the same way.

Turning to a particular poll, about a week ago I saw an article at the Fox News website regarding some of the polling done after the debate they hosted. From what I read, it seemed that the candidates who were graded highest on specific questions concerning being qualified, being likable, and/or having performed well in the debate were not the ones ranking highest in the polls showing the preferred/supported candidates of the respondents. I can understand that a viewer/listener might think one candidate had done the best job in the debate but still prefer someone else overall (based on previous record, positions on the issues, or many other factors.) I would probably be in that camp myself, but the numbers and the article do make me wonder about the factors people are considering in making their choices about favored candidates. It seems rather disheartening if actually being perceived to have positive characteristics such as qualification, likability, and good debating/speaking skills is still not enough to elevate good candidates in the polls. They instead show no improved standing or even drop further behind, while the public rewards being less qualified and failing to give good answers in the debate, and I hope that this trend will change as the nomination selection process continues.

Finally, closer to home, some additional unpleasant news came from a recent Wisconsin poll. In part, it showed that Scott Walker trailed the oh-so-trustworthy Hillary Clinton in a hypothetical presidential election match-up here in his own home state. I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised, since I’ve thought for some time that my state’s voters must have pretty strange views or a sort of “split personality” when it comes to politics. They are sometimes willing to give Republicans and conservative policies a chance at the state level in the legislature and the governor’s office, but when it comes to presidential elections,they insist on choosing liberal Democrats. The elections in 2000 and 2004 were close here, but that seems to have been an anomaly. I found it especially odd in 2012 that, shortly after convincingly re-electing the conservative Governor Walker in the recall election, Wisconsin’s voters opted for the left-wing Barack Obama by a comfortable margin, even with all of his many flaws and weaknesses and even though our own Congressman Paul Ryan was on the Republican ticket as Mitt Romney’s running mate. Sigh...

All of these opinion polls serve to show me once again that I really can’t understand the thinking of many of my fellow Americans. Perhaps it might be best to just ignore the polls from now on -- or at least for a while, but that will be difficult to do with all that is going on. Maybe there will be survey results that make more sense to me somewhere down the road, but I’m not “counting” on it.