Watching political polls

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(Host) Watching candidates compete for position in the approaching Democratic Presidential Primary has inspired commentator Libby Sternberg to reflect on what constitutes a winning strategy.

(Sternberg) I first saw Bill Clinton in a televised primary debate very early in the campaign cycle. Of the field of candidates participating, he shone. He wasn’t grumpy or caustic. He had a bright enthusiasm about him, a “can-do” attitude. That, combined with his ability to empathize with the average guy and gal, made for a winning formula.

In their rush to criticize President Bush, some of the current presidential hopefuls may be forgetting Clinton’s successful approach, especially his ability to communicate he “felt people’s pain” – as well as their happiness.

For example, when the news broke that Saddam Hussein’s sons were killed, the natural reaction was relief. But some candidate reactions were carping.

It almost seemed as if the candidates were sad to be deprived, at least during that news cycle, of another opportunity to criticize President Bush.

But relentlessly criticizing Bush might not be the ticket to success. As the Democratic Leadership Council put it: “Anti-Bush feervor will get core Democrats to the polls, but it won’t beat Bush.”

Okay, but candidates have to appeal to their core constituencies during primaries. Surely a Democratic candidate’s views are more appealing to swing voters than the views of “extremist” George Bush, right?

Well, not necessarily. The public might have reasonable concerns about the Iraq war, but, according to a Gallup poll reported on CNN in early August, a full 63 percent of Americans still believe the war was worth fighting. What’s worse for the Democratic candidates is the fact that the poll also found 65 percent of Americans believe the Democrats’ criticisms of the president on the war are all about politics.

On tax cuts, the public is muddled at best. A Pew Research Center poll released on August 7 found that the public supports repealing tax cuts to pay for health care by a two to one margin. However, those campaigning on that platform should take note of another finding in the very same poll — when asked if they approved or disapproved of the two tax cuts spearheaded by Bush, the public wholeheartedly approved of them — by 54 to 37 percent.

And on the issue of civil unions, a late July Gallup poll showed only 40 percent of respondents favoring them.

That can all change, of course. Political campaigns are not like chemical formulas where you mix ingredients and always get the same results. Strong leadership can sway opinions, and many factors can influence voters’ outlooks.

I don’t envy the Democrats’ dilemma – to meet voters where they are and be accused of being “Bush lite,” or to blaze new trails with the risk that no one will follow.

This is Libby Sternberg in Rutland.

Libby Sternberg is a free-lance writer, former chair of the Rutland County Republican Party, and is active in education issues.

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