Saturday, January 19, 2008

Public Perceptions

A few days ago, the Pew Research Center published the results of their latest poll about the public perception of Presidential candidates, providing the graphic illustration above. Looking at the graph, and the data, a few things stand out:

1. Matthew Yglesias is right, up to a point, when he notes: how unhinged Republicans' views of Hillary Clinton are. Contrast their exile of her to the outer fringes somewhere near Lenin and Pol Pot to the "all voters" pool which correctly sees her and Obama as occupying similar ground on the center-left. And that's even with the wacky Republican views factored in.

2. What Yglesias misses (or ignores) is that Democratic voters, who presumably know their own candidates better, place Obama to the left of Clinton and themselves. Obama and Clinton only appear next to each other in the "all voters" pool because of the irrational views held of Clinton by large numbers of Republicans. That cannot be good for Obama. For the cynics in the cheap seats, it probably explains his recent reference to Ronald Reagan.

3. Aggregated, voters continue to identify themselves as being moderately conservative. Yglesias is surprised by this. I am not. It seems to me that many beltway pundits have misinterpreted widespread disappointment with the Bush Administration. Just because someone believes that Bush & Co. screwed up the Iraq War does not mean that they suddenly believe that cutting off funding for it was a good idea, for example, as the Democrats discovered. The fact that Bush and the GOP went on a spending spree for six years does not mean the voters want the Democrats to go on a bigger one. The fact remains that the GOP was brutally punished at the polls in 2006 because of their excesses. So far, the Democrats in Congress appear to have learned as much from that election as the Republicans who lost it: next to nothing. Until someone with a compelling vision comes along, the sea-change in political attitudes that Democratic partisans thought occurred in 2006 will not happen.

4. Rudy Giuliani is in the perfect spot to win a general election but he needs to get the nomination first and his odds there appear to be shrinking. If he manages a win in Florida, then he could be on his way. If not, "silver medalist" Mitt Romney could outdistance McCain.

(Welcome Sideways Mencken readers!)

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