We might have learned something from yesterday’s ABC News/Washington Post poll of Iowa voters. What we learned has very little to do with political poll numbers.
Take off your turkey hunting hat and put on your psychoanalysis cap.
If there is something surprising about the new ABC News/Washington Post survey of likely Iowa Democratic caucus attendees, it isn’t the fact that Sen. Barack Obama (30 percent) holds a narrow lead over New York Sen. Hillary Clinton (26 percent) and John Edwards (22 percent). It’s the curious way ABC and rival NBC reported on and interpreted the results during their Monday night national news programs. [snip]
ABC’s World News opened with the network’s new survey, treating it with a breathless quality deserving of momentous breaking news. In fact, the ballot test in the new poll wasn’t all that different from the previous ABC News/Washington Post poll, conducted in late July, which had Obama leading with 27 percent, to 26 percent each for both Clinton and Edwards. Obama’s lead both in July and in the most recent survey are statistically insignificant. [snip]
NBC also botched its report of the new survey. First, Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, referring to the Iowa race and the new poll, said “It’s tightening among the Democrats,” and then NBC Chief White House Correspondent David Gregory compounded the error by telling viewers that “For the first time, [Obama] has a lead in the state.” Given the results of the previous ABC News/Washington Post poll, “tightening” is not an apt description. And of course, Obama held a “lead” in the July survey.
It’s worth noting, though nobody did, that the July ABC News/Washington Post survey was dramatically different than other surveys taken at the time. This does not mean that the July ABC News survey was wrong or that the current one is incorrect. It is a reminder, however, that it’s better to be cautious about reading too much into this, or any, poll – even if you are paying for the survey.
For the record, we will also note that the poll was taken at a time when Hillary had been under fire by her Democratic opponents. For two weeks Hillary was savaged by Big Media and Obama/Edwards and Ripublican candidates ran anti-Hillary advertisements in New Hampshire. If there was anything of note in the new Iowa poll it is the continuing death rattle of the Edwards campaign. Hillary’s numbers remained stable. Note also the rise of Bill Richardson and the possibility Richardson will overtake Edwards.
That said, what caught our eyes was not the dubious pedigree or results of the Iowa poll, but like Rothenberg, we gazed at the reaction to the poll — think Whoville after the Grinch returns the flooflahs and gadrooks on Christmas Day.
By now, it is not especially original to note (with barely veiled amusement) how Obama supporters (poor Edwards supporters, they have been exiled from Whoville celebrations) shout huzzahs and ignite fireworks at the few polls showing an Obama lead yet they regularly denigrate and denounce polls that show, with regularity, a Hillary lead.
Why, we wondered, do rational people twist themselves into pretzels – one day denouncing any and all polls, the next day praising a poll – all the while denying the charge of inconsistency? There is no denying, it is transparently a complete reverse of position, to denounce poll results one day and praise poll results the next day. Why such inconsistency? Why such intellectual cheapness? We had a mild and giggly revelation.
We realized that like proverbial impoverished orphans beaten daily by an equally proverbial wicked step-mother, the slightest smile, indeed even a perfunctory slap (as opposed to a deliberate and energetic slap) by the wicked step-mother will be welcomed by the little tyke as an act of love. In other words, Obama supporters (we’ll charitably include Edwards supporters too because it is the holiday season) are so used to bad news they will leap like happy dogs at any scrap thrown their way.
As we wrote, the above are not particularly astute observations. But let’s go one step further. Perhaps this helps to explain the inchoate hate some Obama/Edwards supporters display towards Hillary and her triumphant supporters. Let’s look at things from the point of view of Obama/Edwards supporters. Day after day, week after week, month after month, every poll that is announced is occasion for fear. Like beaten dogs these Obama/Edwards supporters tremble with fear every time the cruel master enters the house, poll stick in hand. When not beaten, the dog rejoices and licks the hand of the benevolent poll/master.
Imagine now, if you will, paying for a roller-coaster ride, expecting swift ups and downs and thrills a minute, only to get a steady ride with no surprises – a bus ride to the parking lot. Obama/Edwards supporters early in the year expected to actually compete for the nomination. They expected a thrill packed up and down ride to the nomination. Instead they find themselves on a bus to the Hillary parking lot. The anger rises.
Which brings us to our central point. Obama/Edwards supporters don’t know what it feels like to be genuinely winning and this feeds their inarticulate hatred. Yes, Obama has had very good Big Media publicity but never a streak of winning poll numbers. Edwards has not had a good day, nor good publicity, since the day he announced. Even on the day Edwards announced he had to compete with two other funerals – President Ford and James Brown. The Obama and Edwards campaign don’t know how it feels to be on top. It’s not funny. This probably helps to explain their deranged mood swings and attacks and hatred of all things Hillary.
Hillary supporters, on the other hand, have been on a winning streak all year. Hillary has had great poll numbers going back to 2004 when some thought she should run for president. When the odd poll with less than stellar results for Hillary is published some act like Turkey Lurkey – the sky is falling. We Hillary supporters are an odd bunch. We prize excellence. Hillary polls at less than 50% and we are aghast. We begrudge Governor Richardson’s New Mexico poll leads. We hungrily gaze at Obama’s slight Illinois lead. We are barely satisfied at massive leads in Connecticut, Delaware and North Carolina – homes states of other competitors. We want it all. Hooray for us.
Iowa peeves us. It is not necessary for a Hillary victory, but it peeves us nevertheless. We want to win there, not out of necessity but for a sense of completeness and dare we say, perfection. Forget, as our chart from Sunday shows, that Hillary has spent much less on advertising than Obama, and visited Iowa much less than Obama and Edwards. Forget too that our allies such as EMILY’s List and AFSCME are just beginning to campaign for Hillary. Forget too that we still do not know what the full campaign calendar is and that Hillary is running a 50 state campaign. Hillary has a live Democratic campaign in New Hampshire and there the Ripublicans are running advertisements against her thereby helping Obama/Edwards/Richardson. Hillary is campaigning and winning nationwide. The Obama and Edwards campaigns are essentially running an Iowa only campaign.
We want to win and nothing else will do.
While the other campaigns light incense and chant incantations for deliverance at this late and crucial hour — the Hillary team is harvesting all the fruits of months of hard work. The Hillary Team is responding, as planned, to the late hour challenges. Hillary is increasing staff, advertising and surrogate and personal appearances in Iowa while maintaining the initiative in the other 49 states. As other candidates attack her trustworthiness, an ad addressing that concern is released. When Ripublicans Romney and McCain run negative ads against her in New Hampshire the campaign responds with an advertisment aimed at the Ripublicans.
The Hillary campaign is running a 50 state campaign with all the other campaigns geared up to attack one and only one person – Hillary. What is remarkable is that Hillary is still beating them all.
Hillary is winning at this late and crucial hour, because she hoped for the best, but prepared for the worst. Wishing and hoping, moaning and groaning won’t win the day. We mean to win. Nothing else will do.