Focal Point

OPINION POLLS ARE PROBABLY among the most misunderstood elements on the American political scene, and for that reason they are almost reflexively denounced by the partisans of whichever side is behind in the most up-to-date ratings. The usual accusations are that the pollsters are biased, or that the pollsters deliberately skewed their sample to obtain results pleasing to one side or another, and in either case are unfairly attempting influence the outcome of the election. But while it is true questions can be biased to produce desired responses – polls by anti-Second Amendment activists are a classic example of this sort of disinformation – such purposeful manipulation nevertheless renders the poll useless as a picture of reality: garbage in, garbage out. And I can’t think of any instance in which opinion- poll results demonstrably changed the outcome of an election (though it is surely arguable that election-day exit-polling may do so), nor have I ever known or heard of any documented proof that even a single voter was moved to switch candidates or positions on the basis of pre-election poll results. Poll-bashing – save where the polls are clearly dishonest (like those run by the down-with-self-defense looneys) – is thus mostly an exercise in pointless expulsion of hot air.

What a well-constructed poll can do – and this is its great utility – is provide campaign managers with a kind of statistical report card on how well (or how poorly) they are doing at any given time. For this potential to be fulfilled, the pollsters have to craft their questions properly, and they have to poll a sample of the population that is not only statistically random (and therefore truly representative) but is carefully selected to include only respondents who are likely to vote. Any error in the research model – the questions – or in the sample itself will render the results misleading and therefore worthless, a lesson learned the hard way by more than one local political campaigner. For the layperson, probably the best way to think about pre-election polls is that they are indeed analogous to report cards. Just like those dread reports to parents schools issue after some specified “grading period,” polls evaluate a campaign on its deportment and scholarship, with levels of achievement (or lack thereof) measured by how a campaign’s grasp of issues resonates with likely voters.

Thus President Bush’s declining poll numbers are – or should be – increasingly a matter of concern among his campaign advisors. Support for the President has already dropped beneath the point at which any other incumbent has won re-election, and the reason is obvious: the ruinous combination of the administration’s own blunders at home and abroad, and the gross magnification of these blunders by a media establishment that is more hostile to George Bush than to any other President in my lifetime and possibly in the entire history of the Republic. A third factor in this equation is the increasing aloofness – many would call it arrogance – of the President himself, a stance disturbingly reminiscent of his own father and the debacle of 1992. Instead of rebutting his critics, Bush ignores them – precisely as if he expects to be re-elected by Divine intervention – which some of his more rabid detractors have indeed already charged.

While there is little doubt the apparent resolution of the Iraqi crisis via the United Nations has deftly co-opted one of the Democrats’ two issues, the other – the economy – remains the one upon which Bush can yet lose the election. Despite the statistical recovery that is unquestionably underway, there remain stubborn pockets of unemployment throughout the nation. Some of these hard-hit areas are key electoral-college states. All of them are afflicted by staggeringly high fuel prices, and in some – my home state of Washington among them – runaway fuel prices have already sent shipping costs soaring and thus triggered inflation in the price of food and other necessities. The President’s decision to cut taxes and let the marketplace solve its own problems without additional federal interference was brilliant – and some economists say it may have prevented a full-fledged depression. But neither the President nor his associates have been successful in telling this story to the electorate, and the results of the poll linked here (for which thanks are due Andrew Sullivan), merely underscore that fact.

Another big reason the President is losing ground is that Second Amendment advocates have seen through the eyewash of Attorney General John Ashcroft’s “individual right” proclamation and are increasingly disaffected by the grim reality of Bush’s own stated anti-gun positions. These include support for renewal of the Assault Weapons Ban, enactment of new prohibitions on private firearms sales and gun shows, and most of all, his support for the draconian NICS Improvement Act. NICS Improvement, formerly named the “Our Lady of Peace Act,” (Google either title) would begin the imposition of New York City-type gun controls on the entire nation by criminalizing even minor mental illness, and on that basis – labeling all mentally ill persons “mental defectives” no matter the brevity or mildness of their condition – would expand the universe of prohibited persons accordingly. This would eventually ban as many as half of all U.S. citizens from firearms ownership – no exceptions, no appeals – and thereby deny them forever any meaningful right to self defense.

But from the perspective of the War and America’s defense against Islam’s renewal of its 1300-year onslaught against civilization, the most telling aspect of Bush’s opposition to the Second Amendment is how he continues to allow two anti-gunners, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, to brazenly obstruct the will of Congress that the nation’s commercial airline pilots be armed – just as pilots were in the years of “airmail” service. The obstruction is old news, so there is no doubt Bush approves of it. But in this instance, Bush’s hidden anti-Second Amendment agenda is endangering the nation, as documented here.

posted by on June 10, 2004 11:13 AM