After the polling debacles of Iowa and New Hampshire is anyone other than the news media paying any attention to what the polls are saying about tomorrow's GOP primary in South Carolina?
I'm not. There are too many polls, with too many competing agendas, and they have become this season's equivalent of the Robo Calls from previous campaigns that drove voters to distraction.
At this juncture in my life, having been a registered voter since I turned 21, which was just in time to vote in the presidential election of 1968 - a fortunate turn of events since I had already been in Vietnam for six months - I have never been called by a pollster.
I have voted in local, regional, state and national elections ever since '68. I have voted in referendums on budgets, building projects, land purchases and God knows what else. But I have never been called by a pollster and I don't know of anyone who has been called by a pollster.
In fact, the bulk of the polls rely on the responses of about 800-900 people, a number which wouldn't win a municipal election even in my little corner of paradise! So how are these minute-by-minute updates of what a small group of anonymous respondents say supposed to be a reliable reflection of what is really going on in people's minds?
Just before the Iowa caucus I had the laugh of the campaign season when Fox News interviewed a young woman at an outdoor skating rink, who said she was hiding out from the campaign Robo calls. She ended the segment saying she was considering seeking a restraining order to make Hillary Clinton leave her alone!
Hiding out from political phone calls could be on the way to Olympic Sport status at this rate. Another possibility for that distinction is the revered sport of giving answers to pollsters that are contrary to what the respondent actually believes. It is apparent after the made-for-media political events of the last few weeks that many Americans are as fed up with polling as they are with campaign calls.
There are myriad uses for well-done polls. A major sampling of opinions on any issue can be of great value, especially for long-term planning. But for something as volatile as a person's opinion on a primary vote, in which a two- or three-week window of intense campaigning can change thousands of minds, doesn't seem to be working out that well.
There are still at least five major Republican contenders, three major Democrat contenders, and a couple of candidates in each party who don't seem to be going anywhere. But trying to make sense out of who likes whom on a daily basis is polling overload.
Even the polling 'averages' are suspect, since there is no way to determine from just looking at the average how many polls were included, when they were done, who did them, and what questions were asked. The average "trends" posted before both Iowa and New Hampshire turned out to be dead wrong, so why should we trust them today?
For instance, Fox News has been running a Real Clear Politics average on the polls in South Carolina several times a day for at least a week. But last week that poll included some numbers for Fred Thompson that were taken in the days leading up to the Iowa caucus, in which Thompson was given virtually no chance of a decent showing, yet he leaped ahead of John McCain to take third place.
This 'average' now says Thompson is a distant fourth in the South Carolina race, behind McCain, Mike Huckabee, and Mitt Romney, but there are strong indications that this is not the case. News reports say the crowds at Thompson events are already standing room and getting bigger. He doesn't need specialty camera shots to make crows appear bigger than they are, as is the case with some of his rivals.
The Vets For Fred organization mounted a major, and by all accounts successful, push to put veteran 'boots on the ground' in South Carolina to work for the Thompson campaign. Reporters acknowledge that Thompson's campaign apparatus is the best in South Carolina as he travels across the state to meet and great in person.
Even the media correspondents who are covering the race don't seem to be all that reliant on the polls.
For instance, the RCP average that puts Thompson behind Mitt Romney moved Fox News political correspondent Carl Cameron to note at 10:33 a.m. Friday, "That's probably not the case!" He noted that while Thompson is putting a major effort into the South Carolina primary, Romney has pulled out of that state and isn't campaigning there at all!
Are you kidding? If a capable professional such as Carl Cameron who is on the ground and reporting what he is seeing doesn't believe the polls, why the hell should I? And answer me this please. If the poll numbers from the Iowa and New Hampshire races were dead-assed wrong, by big margins, why on earth would you include them in any average looking forward to tomorrow's primary?
The conventional wisdom in political punditry also puts Thompson out of the race if he doesn't win South Carolina. Well, maybe the pundits should take a closer look at Thompson's website www.Fred08.com.
In the past two weeks he has achieved three major Internet fund-raising goals, hitting the mark and then some each time. The last included a drive to donate $10 at 10 p.m., that helped him go over the top on a $1 million effort.
Not only has he reached past goals, but if you look closely, you'll see his next milestone is not today, or even tomorrow, Primary Day in South Carolina. Thompson's next fund-raising goal is Monday, Jan. 21!
Does that sound like a campaign that is folding its tents?
Not to me it doesn't.
The issue with South Carolina, just as with Iowa and New Hampshire, is that there are unique blocks of voters in each state who can give a momentary advantage to one candidate that isn't likely to carry through the later primaries.
McCain for instance, is a sure favorite among many veterans in South Carolina which gives the former Navy officer and POW from the Vietnam War an advantage similar to what Huckabee enjoys among evangelical Christians. South Carolina has a huge veteran population with more than 50 percent of the households including at least one person who is or was in the military.
Even though the group Vietnam Veterans Against John McCain is drawing attention in South Carolina, he is likely to win the bulk of the military vote tomorrow. In fact, the anti-McCain effort could work in his favor.
The group is publicizing its dislike for McCain due to his actions in partnership with Massachusetts Senator John Kerry on a Senate committee reviewing the fate of some 300 live American POWs left behind in Laos after the Paris Peace Accords were signed. McCain is pictured as not only resistant to pleas to investigate live sighting reports in-depth, but also as being dismissive beyond rudeness to families who were pleading to keep the issue alive.
McCain's committee ultimately dropped the investigations into live POW-MIA sightings by declaring that regardless of what happened to our servicemen in Laos in 1973, they all are dead now. But many veterans and POW-MIA family members are not at all satisfied with that decision.
However, the media has portrayed the veteran dissatisfaction with McCain as stemming from claims that he collaborated with the North Vietnamese communists when he was held captive. That claim, regardless of its veracity, could backfire against McCain's opponents and result in the veteran community closing ranks around one of its own.
Thompson, decried that approach, saying it went "over the line" of appropriate campaigning.
Nonetheless, the truth about South Carolina is the same as the truth about Iowa and New Hampshire. The voters will have the say and they will do that regardless of what any news reporters or polls say.
New Hampshire and Iowa allowed independents and Democrats to vote in the Republican primaries which I believe is a huge mistake, and gives us results that do not reflect national GOP opinions. South Carolina has its own concentrations of voters who could also give momentary momentum to one person or another.
But interestingly, Rudy Giuliani, like Romney, is not campaigning in South Carolina, and is instead focusing all his energy on Florida's January 29 primary. If Giuliani wins a majority in each of Florida's congressional districts, he will walk away with way more delegates than any of the other candidates have amassed in all the other contests so far! Which will make all the talk about Iowa, and New Hampshire, and Michigan and South Carolina and Nevada just that, talk.
Then comes the Super Tuesday contests in which Republicans across the country will be voting, and then we will see who it is that Republicans really like for their presidential candidate.
The biggest impact of the campaigns so for is to see who the media likes, which gives us an opportunity to question their motives.
We are a couple of weeks from finding out who the real front-runners are in this contest, and frankly, I can wait until then to see if the polls had any idea at all, or were just pushing wishful thinking.
Friday, January 18, 2008