The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Polls Are Not Predictions

Posted on | September 13, 2010 | 28 Comments

Paul Mirengoff of Powerline — a nice guy, whom I’ve met a few times — defends himself against Mark Levin’s criticism over the Delaware GOP Senate primary. Rather than to get into the middle of that, let me pull out a few phrases from Mirengoff’s post as illustrative of a more general dispute:

I then argued that, by supporting Christine O’Donnell in the Delaware Senate primary despite the likelihood (demonstrated by polls) that she would lose the general election, whereas her centrist opponent in the primary would likely win . . .
O’Donnell was routed when she ran for office in the past and currently is well behind the presumptive Democratic nominee in the polls. . . .
. . . polls, coupled with the state’s recent electoral history and O’Donnell’s prior poor showings, provide strong evidence that the O’Donnell is unlikely to win in November . . .
. . .my posts about the Delaware primary didn’t take a position adverse to O’Donnell until polls began to show her trailing the Democrat by double digits . . .

Other examples abound, but I think you see the point here: Mirengoff has allowed poll numbers to dominate his view of the Delaware primary and he is certainly not alone in doing so.

Yesterday afternoon, I returned to the Crystal City Sheraton after the 9/12 March and met an O’Donnell supporter who was almost frantic with distress. Someone on the Internet was trumpeting an outdated poll showing Christine trailing Mike Castle by 30 points. “We need to push back against this,” said the O’Donnell supporter.

Well, I had no time to blog at that point and thus couldn’t join the pushback effort. But a couple hours later, while I was working on my American Spectator column about the 9/12 March, the PPP poll went online:

It looks like there’s a real possibility of a major upset in the Delaware Senate primary on Tuesday night, with insurgent conservative Christine O’Donnell leading longtime Congressman and Governor Mike Castle 47-44. That 3 point lead is well within the poll’s margin of error. . . .
It’s clear that Castle’s popularity has taken a sharp turn in the wrong direction over the last month. . . .

Anti-O’Donnell readers must ponder this question: If the poll numbers in the GOP primary could shift so rapidly — if Castle could lose this much ground in the span of a month — why should we put faith in what polls tell us about the general election match-up against Democrat Chris Coons?

Paul Mirengoff has a lot of company among Republicans who have allowed this polls-as-predictions thinking to cloud their judgment about Delaware. This is an example of how the bandwagon mentality sometimes dominates political discourse. I’ve seen this type of argument used in policy discussions as well: “X percent of Americans believe global warming is a serious problem, therefore conservatives must propose policies to deal with global warming.”

Public opinion is a moving target, and the purpose of politics is not merely to react to public opinion, but to change public opinion. You will never win a fight if you walk away from the fight, and that’s what happens when you say to yourself, “Well, Delaware is a liberal state; there’s no point even trying to elect a real conservative there.”

Conservatives ought not succumb to the defeatist argument that we should retreat, ceding political terrain to our anatagonists, simply because they are strong and we are weak. When will we be stronger?

If Republicans can’t elect a conservative in Delaware this year, at what future point will such a victory be possible? In 2012? 2014? Ever?

Am I the only one who sees that this kind of helpless passivity toward the presumed liberalism of “Blue States” is a sure-fire formula for slow-motion political suicide?

Stand up and fight! WOLVERINES!



28 Responses to “Polls Are Not Predictions”

  1. Spin of the day « Da Techguy's Blog
    September 13th, 2010 @ 12:48 pm

    […] Stacy says it well:Stacy & I discuss the vital issues of the day Public opinion is a moving target, and the […]

  2. datechguy
    September 13th, 2010 @ 12:48 pm

    One finds it very hard to win a fight you don’t show up for.

  3. Adobe Walls
    September 13th, 2010 @ 1:45 pm

    We either stand for conservative principals or we stand for electing anything called a Republican. That the terms Conservative and Republican are not mutually exclusive does not mean they are or mean the same thing. Politicians and people come and go, principals endure. We must be prepared to take risks, if standing for principals is the “right, morally correct thing to do” we need to have at least some faith that it’s also a winning strategy.
    At some point we have to put our principals where our mouths are.

  4. Joe
    September 13th, 2010 @ 2:00 pm

    Polls, if done properly, do matter. They tell you, as a snap shot in time, where things are statistically. A series of them over time can tell you if the tide is ebbing or flooding. Stacy chose to stay support JD Hayworth, support JD Hayworth, but he knew damn well that JD Hayworth’s chances were diminishing as the election came closer and closer, due to the poll numbers.

    But Mike Castle’s polls with the assumed Democratic challenger compared to Christine O’Donnell’s poll with the same challenger are different. First of all Mike Castle is a very well known quantity in Delaware. Christin O’Donnell is less well known and her Democratic opponents are out to destroy her. If Castle is so weak that O’Donnell can beat him in the primary, by suggestion is there is a lot of dissatisfaction with Castle from Republicans and Conservatives.

    Now I do not think Ace, Allah, Powerline, NRO, and others are wrong about winning blue states with moderate Republicans (or pointing out Christine’s flaws). There is no right or wrong here, it is a legitmate position to take. Nor do I think Riehl, Levin, Smitty, and RSM are wrong in promoting the candidate they think represents conservative values best (and pointing out Castle’s flaws).

    If Christine wins the primary and loses the general, you know that Ace, Allah, Powerline and NRO will be saying I told you so. And if Mike Castle wins the primaries and acts like a horse’s ass in the Senate (or ends up losing the general) then Levin, Riehl, Stacy and Smitty will be saying I told you so.

    I think WFB’s vote for the most conservative candidate who can win still applies. I also agree with Riehl that if the GOP takes back Congress and then failed to govern in a conservative manner, we are screwed. We need to promote conservative values, starting with fiscal restraint.

    Ultimately, this vote is like that of a coach deciding to punt or go for it on 4th and 1. I suggest Delaware GOP voters research both candidates and go with their gut.

  5. William
    September 13th, 2010 @ 2:10 pm

    I say let Delaware suffer through the economy killing policies of a true Democrat if that leans closer to their true “beliefs.” We can depend on Mike Castle to only slowly kill the Republic, and not follow the hyper-drive Obama nonsense. Oh joy.

    I do somewhat respect the Beta-male “Oh, the polls, and, oh, let’s count how many votes and then make a chart and then aim for the most reasonable of compromises,” but I ain’t hunting with them.

  6. Joe
    September 13th, 2010 @ 2:33 pm

    Wanna go hunting?

    I look at this map every day. The trend is clearly toward red. Even Blue Oregon would be a race if Jim Huffman (who is a libertarian property rights kind of republican) got some cash to take on typical lefty Ron Wyden. Rossi is beating Patty “Sneakers” Murray in Washington. Boxer is at risk in California! Feingold is at risk in Wisconsin.

    All these races are winable.

    As for Delaware. Delaware republicans should be able to figure out which candidate is electable and go with that candidate. This polling at this time is not so clear cut on who can win. Christine is an underdog with limited funding. The question is whether she can close the gap in time for November.

  7. Joe
    September 13th, 2010 @ 2:35 pm

    @4 above, Stacy chose to say “support JD Hayworth, support JD Hayworth” when he had to know things were not looking good for JD Hayworth. There comes a point of time, like in a football game, when you have a pretty good idea it is okay to leave and head for the parking lot.

  8. Ben (The Tiger)
    September 13th, 2010 @ 2:39 pm

    I was leaning towards Castle over O’Donnell, but Palin’s endorsement carries weight.

    Still, probably would stick to Castle in this particular case.

    But if she wins, cheering for her in the general…

  9. Robert Stacy McCain
    September 13th, 2010 @ 2:46 pm

    Stacy chose to say “support JD Hayworth, support JD Hayworth” when he had to know things were not looking good for JD Hayworth

    Exactly. When I support a candidate, I support that candidate all the way: Win, lose or draw. I don’t let poll numbers interfere with my advocacy. And while I’m at it:


  10. Thomas L. Knapp
    September 13th, 2010 @ 2:55 pm

    “Nor do I think Riehl, Levin, Smitty, and RSM are wrong in promoting the candidate they think represents conservative values best (and pointing out Castle’s flaws).”

    I don’t read Riehl or Levin.

    I have yet to see Smitty or RSM make a case that O’Donnell “represents conservative values.” Rather the case they make continuously is that O’Donnell is not Castle.

    Having no dog in the hunt (I’m not a Republican, I’m not a conservative, and I don’t live in Delaware), I’m not particularly concerned with the outcome, but I would be interested in seeing the other case made, if for no other reason than that turning a litigious, perjurious, fiscally irresponsible gender-card player into an icon of “conservative values” sounds like an interesting feat from a technical perspective.

  11. The Battle of Delaware | Parcbench
    September 13th, 2010 @ 3:53 pm

    […] their minds, it’s a foregone conclusion she’ll lose in the general. Not so fast, urges The Other McCain, polls are not necessarily predictive. While I agree, I’d also point out that even if […]

  12. Joe
    September 13th, 2010 @ 4:10 pm

    RSM, I admire your support for the candidates you like (or in the case of Hayworth, those you dislike as the alternative choice). Jeff Goldstein was bitching yesterday (rightfully so) about Denver “fans” booing their own team and second calling every coaching decision. Still, the closer you get to the election, the more the polls do become a predictor of the outcome.

    Rush made the point that he is very annoyed with Republicans trying sooooo hard to be “reasonable” and how they ceed determining what reasonable is to the Left (which is something Jeff G has been a voice in the wilderness about for years).

    Castle has been becoming soooooo reasonable over the years, that he created the opening for a more right candidate like O’Donnell. The problem is she may have some Hayworth baggage which could cost her the general. Or maybe not. I would rather that vetting happen before the primary than afterwards. Better now than two weeks before the general.

    But it seems like the polls are indicating she is rising and that she will be the GOP candidate in the general.

  13. ak4mc
    September 13th, 2010 @ 4:45 pm

    The problem with writing off a blue state as a blue state and always going for the RINO to get a checkmark in the “R” column is, aside from voting for McConnell instead of Reid, what will the RINO do that makes it worth having him there?

    If the “R” isn’t going to be a vote for the things people reasonably expect an “R” to support, why should voters support him?

  14. William
    September 13th, 2010 @ 5:20 pm

    You’ve got good political passion, Joe, and certainly make fair points.

    Still not sure I’d invite you quail hunting, though. 🙂

  15. Fishersville Mike: Maybe "unelectable" works this year
    September 14th, 2010 @ 4:23 am

    […] "unelectable" works this year From Kentucky to Nevada, Alaska and now Delaware, we've had "Tea Party" "extreme" candidates take on the establishment GOP.The establishment says […]

  16. Media wrong; Republicans wrong; O’Donnell, just ‘right’
    September 18th, 2010 @ 1:14 pm

    […] so fast, urges The Other McCain. Polls are not necessarily predictive. While I agree, I’d also point out that even if Democrat […]