In a front page article in today’s Washington Times, the headline reads, “GOP on Losing Side of Birth Control — 30% of Party Back Obama’s Stance.”
The Washington Times is now working with Mr. John Zogby’s polling firm, JZ Analytics, to conduct polls and publicize their results. Thus, there is some self-interest on the part of the Washington Times in publicizing his polls.
Let’s assume the poll is correct, that 30% of likely Republican voters (in a small sample of 500) disagree with the proposition that the debate over Obama’s contraception mandate is about religious liberty, and accept Obama’s characterization of the issue as about women’s rights. On the basis of those numbers alone, Mr. Zogby advises Republican candidates to “Drop this baby right now. Drop it. This is not a winner.”
But where’s the context? What, for instance, is the threshold by which a particular issue should be dropped by a candidate? In the same article, Mr. Zogby points to 18.3% who agree that “stricter enforcement of immigration laws is the wrong policy.” Nothing in the article indicates if Mr. Zogby has any advice based on this 18.3%.
Let’s flip the question. If 30% of likely Democratic voters said that Obama’s contraception mandate was about religious liberty, would that meet Mr. Zogby’s numerical threshold to advise all Democratic candidates to drop the issue because it’s a loser? I think not. I think he would want to know what the independents think. Thus, if 70% of Republicans and if, for example, 30% of Democrats and 60% of independents agreed that it was an issue of conscience, then it would be a winner for Republican candidates.
Take a further step back for the still bigger context. Every politician knows that every time he or she stakes out a position, he or she loses voters. There’s a strong incentive to take absolutely no positions. But some positions on some issues must be taken. Voters, individually and in the aggregate, will favor some issues and oppose others, and they will change their views over time in response to a number of things, including hearing the arguments of the candidates, and advertisements. On issue 1, there may be 5% of likely Republicans opposed. On issue 2, there may be 15%. On issue 3, there may be 40%. Candidates mix and match these. Is there a numerical minimum on an issue that no candidate should ever buck? Clearly, Mr. Zogby thinks that 30% (if not less) is such a number.
Take a further step back. What historical basis would there be for adopting such a numerical threshold? For example, in the 1980 election, what did the polls say on various issues between Reagan and Carter? Did Reagan espouse any position that, while 30% of likely Republican voters disagree with him, he still won on that issue on election day? Is Mr. Zogby willing to say that no candidate for president (or Senate or House) has every won election if he or she asserted a position that was contrary to the views of 30% or greater of his or her Party?
Since Mr. Zogby’s advice is based on a raw poll number without any context, it is worthless. It was not worthy of inclusion in any newspaper, much less on the front page.