Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Candidate Flawed v. Blank Slate

For as much as polls serve a real purpose and can be more representative of public opinion compared with actual elections, if they're done properly; there's one type of polling question I don't like: Comparisons of a known candidate with a generic candidate.

And yeah, that can have some usefulness in determining a general sense of how popular a candidate is, yet the implied notion the media portrays is that the known candidate is soooo unpopular that he can't even beat any opponent of the other party.  And so it's considered a huge weakness if you can't beat a generic candidate.  And that's utterly bonkers.

Because the problem is that a generic candidate has no real flaws, no negative record, and no skeletons in the closet; while the known candidate most probably has all of these things; at least to some extent.  And once the eventual opponent surfaces, they too will have flaws and negative records and skeletons in the closet.

Obama v. Generic

And we see that right now, where Obama's compared to a generic candidate and shown to be doing badly.  But so far, there are NO Republican contenders who are even close to being flawless.  In fact, they're all so incredibly flawed that the party is reaching out desperately for any Republican to step in to run against Obama, including relatively moderate Republicans who have said they wouldn't run, and who have a closetful of skeletons himself.

And so this Obama v. Generic is entirely dumb, as it only shows Obama's bottomline support, of people who will support him no matter how awesome the opponent is.  But if the opponent is an extremist who is also viewed as flawed by his own party, then all bets are off and you're going to see lots of numbers shifting to Obama.  Not because they'd always support him, but because the Republican was such a freak that it scared everyone to go for the president.  Because there simply is no Republican whose positives outweigh the negatives.

And finally, there's the issue of how far out from the election we are.  I've looked at poll numbers from previous presidential elections and can tell you that the actual numbers don't really start shaping themselves until about a month or so before the election.  Before that time, you'll have the more fervent supporters who have already made up their mind, but these are the same people who never change.  While the precious swing voters who make all the difference don't start paying attention to this stuff until the election approaches. 

And in a political cycle like ours, the hardcore voters will tend to lean right because they're already so upset, while the undecided are more likely to go for Obama.  And the more Republicans ratchet up the hate rhetoric, the more they'll flock to Obama.

Even Gallup Knows it's Dumb

In Gallup's recent Obama v. Generic poll, we got this little tidbit towards the bottom:
Thus, the results more than a year ahead of the election do not have a large degree of predictive ability, and underscore that things can change greatly in the final year or more before an election.
Then...what exactly was the point?  Moreover, 15% of those polled don't even have an opinion, including 22% of independents.  22%?  That's more than half the number of independents who support Obama.  And of course, the biggest joke is that there isn't a single Republican who polls as well as the Generic Republican candidate.  So every Republican is getting beat by the Generic Republican, but because Gallup didn't poll for that, they won't tell anyone.  And so this is just an exercise in futility.

This stuff might make reporters and political junkies feel better, as they usually prefer horserace analysis over issues; but it has very little predictive value and should always be ignored.

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