Polling numbers just don't add up

(Note: I really don’t have any conclusions here, just a collection of thoughts. Feel free to discuss things among yourselves.)

On the radio the other day, I heard a commentator discussing how President Bush’s approval ratings have fallen even lower. The number I heard was 31%, but that is being challenged — it seems the pollsters once again over-sampled Democrats.

But the particulars aren’t overly important. The commentator said that Bush’s numbers are lower than Clinton’s ever were — and that Clinton would never let his numbers get that bad. Clinton lived and died by polls, by people’s approval, and would have found some way to reverse things. Bush, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to care much for polls; he has his own beliefs and principles, and he stands by them solidly.

A long time ago, I was heavily involved in campus politics. A friend of mine and I were discussing the merits. I backed one candidate as a true believer, a sincere and decent guy. Walter, though, backed a guy who I described as a pure political animal, one who was interested in power and self-aggrandizement. He was lining himself up for a post-college political career, and saw student government as a mere stepping-stone on the way.

Walter’s argument was simple: his guy was someone you could depend on, you could work with. You could get him on your side just by making sure he understood how it would be to his benefit. It was a cold, pragmatic approach, and it repulsed me.

In the end, my guy won and Walter’s lost. And my guy was a disaster.

That’s the problem with the true believers — they rarely end up mediocre. They are either great successes, or great failures. My guy flopped. (It’s so bad that I don’t even remember who the hell he was, but I still remember Walter and his guy, James.)

So, Bush is a true believer, as opposed to Clinton the pragmatist. Reagan and FDR were true believers, but so was Carter. Nixon was, at his core, a pragmatist.

The other element of the polling that struck me is that politics is not a zero-sum game, especially when it comes to polls. Bush’s falling approval do not necessarily mean that his opponents are rising — because they aren’t. There is no ascending star on the Democratic side, just a bunch of retreads, has-beens, and never-weres who think they can capitalize on the numbers to boost themselves — and they can’t.

There’s an old saying in politics that you can’t beat someone with no one. It’s the principle that’s kept Ted and Patrick Kennedy (alias Old Pint and Half Pint) in office. And even though Bush can’t run again, he’s still somebody, and his designated successor will have that going for him (or her). The Democrats need to find someone that people can vote for, for a change — running as “I’m not George W. Bush” hasn’t worked for them yet.

(Update: Iowa Liberal whines that his trackback excoriating me (well, kicking sand on my shoes and stamping his feet) was blocked. Here you go, jb. Sorry to ruin your paranoid persecution complex.)

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