Can We Trust the Polls?

Can we trust the current polls? I do not mean to level any accusations. I think that, with rare exceptions, the pollsters are doing their best to assess the trends. If nothing else, they know that accuracy pays off – that a pollster who gets things right will get a lot of business down the road.


What I have in mind is something else. I suspect that there is something afoot which the pollsters do not yet know how to measure. There is evidence that seems to me to be dispositive. No one predicted Joe Miller’s victory in the Alaska primary; no one predicted Christine O’Donnell’s defeat of Mike Castle – and let’s face it: in neither case was the margin of victory small. My bet is that in November the Republicans will take every single race – for the House, the Senate, or at the state level – in which the pollsters (including Rasmussen, the best of the lot) report that the race is even remotely close.

On 2 September, I posted a piece suggesting that the Republicans would pick up more than 70 seats in the House and would take the Senate. I now think that they will do even better than this – at least in the House. As Peter Wehner and Paul Mirengoff have noted, when Glenn Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies ran a survey recently for the American Action Network, he made a discovery of great interest:

The generic ballot shows Republicans leading 44%-39%. Besides all of the usual regional crosstabs, we also broke it out by the type of district. We looked at the sample in the 66 Democratic INCUMBENT districts that Charlie Cook lists as either toss-up or leaning Democratic at the time of the survey. In that key crosstab of Swing Democratic Incumbent Seats, the Republican lead grows to 49%-31% on the generic ballot. That is a very powerful crosstab that says the wave is coming.

Among the remaining Democratic districts (Likely/Safe Dem, and open seats), the generic ballot is an unsurprisingly 33% GOP/51% Dem — a sign that the historically safe Dem seat will remain so, while the swing seats will be a bloodbath. By the way, in all of the GOP held seats, the generic is the reverse of the base Dem seats — 52% GOP/32% Dem. Very few, if any, Republican incumbents will be defeated.

Likewise, President Obama’s numbers with likely voters are similar to the national average — 46% approve/51% disapprove. However, in the Swing Democratic Incumbent Seats. he has a much worse 40% approve/57% disapprove. (Keep in mind, many of these Swing Seats are held by Democrats despite the fact that John McCain either won the district in 2008, or, even if losing, outperformed his national result.

On 2 November, there is going to be an electoral revolution. I doubt that it will exceed the shift which took place in 1894 – when, in the wake of the Panic of 1893, Grover Cleveland’s Democratic Party split between its goldbug Bourbon wing and the populists who would later unite behind William Jennings Bryan and, in the midterm elections held that year, the Democrats lost 125 seats and the Republicans had a pickup of 130. But it may exceed the largest shift in the 20th century, when 101 seats changed hands in 1932.

Will there be a realignment? I first suggested this possibility thirteen months ago in a post entitled The Great Awakening, and I have returned to the theme repeatedly in a great variety of posts – linked here and archived here and here. It has been my view for some time that, if the Republicans handle themselves in the proper fashion, a realignment is a serious possibility. So far this they have done.

I spelled out the preconditions on 2 August in a blogpost entitled John Boehner’s Testing Time. It was my argument in this post that the Republican candidates needed to unite around a reassertion of the principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and embedded in the Constitution and level a charge against the Obama administration and the Democratic Party in the House and Senate similar to the charge that Franklin Delano Roosevelt lodged against the Republicans and their allies in 1936 – to wit, that “a small group” of individuals – lead by our current President, his Chief of Staff, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the Majority Leader in the United States Senate – really is intent on concentrating “into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor – other people’s lives.” The Pledge to America devised by John Boehner and his allies in the House Republican leadership may not be perfect, but in my view, it does the job.

It is, of course, one thing to win an election in which public discontent is as great as it is now. It is another to consolidate a victory. This is why Boehner’s Pledge is so important. It binds Republicans to vote in a certain way on a set of issues. It serves as a rallying point for the party – and for those outside the party who are hesitant to confer on it their trust.

Even more important, it lays the groundwork for the Presidential election to come in 2012. The Republicans’ victory in 1894 signaled the possibility that there would be a realignment. William McKinley consolidated these gains and completed the realignment process when he defeated William Jennings Bryan by gathering 51.1% of the vote in the Presidential contest of 1896. As this number suggests, the outcome of this latter election was not a foregone conclusion. The Republican victory was hard-fought, and the campaign turned less on personalities than on principles.

As I suggested in a recent post entitled Restoring Constitutional Government, the task we will face after November is a daunting one. It requires that we seize on the opportunity afforded us by the Obama administration to confront the propensity – identified and analyzed in my book Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift – for our government to grow and grow unobtrusively by offering support and subsidies with strings attached. In their audacity, Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid have unmasked the tyrannical potential inherent in the administrative state. It will be our task – first, in the next six weeks and, then, in the two years that follow – to complete the task of unmasking which the enemies of liberty have begun and to offer a viable alternative consistent with the principles enshrined in the Declaration and embedded in the Constitution.

At every point in this struggle, we should recall to mind the words of Abraham Lincoln: “In this and like communities, public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.” We may be able to win a particular election by means of tactical maneuver, but we can effect a realignment and repeatedly win elections only if we operate strategically. We must first win the argument, and we cannot win the argument unless we make it as forcefully and as persuasively as possible over and over and over again.