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May 13, 2006

New Day, New Poll

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

Yesterday, lots of my fellow bloggers were getting nervous about the Washington Post poll that showed 63-35 support for the NSA spying program.  Today's a happier day, with a poll out from Newsweek that has Americans opposing the program 53-41.  Americans' minds still aren't made up on this issue, and while I'm concerned by the fact that the Republican sound-bite ("We need this to save your life from terrorists!") is much more easily transmitted by the media than our arguments, nobody should rely too heavily on yesterday's numbers. 

Another result from the poll (copied by Atrios), shows John Edwards' favorability rating towering over the other Democrats.  His 49% favorables and 24% unfavorables put him at +25, while Hillary stands at +11, Dean at -3, Gore at +6, Ted Kennedy at -2, and Kerry at +9. 

May 13, 2006 in Bush Administration | Permalink


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Tracked on May 22, 2006 3:53:02 AM


How could you possibly want Little Johnny Edwards over Gore? Gore's Southern - IIRC, he's even living in TN right now.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | May 13, 2006 2:35:38 PM

Maybe it's the mill worker thing vs. the silver spoon thing, or who knows what else, but being Southern hasn't made it into Gore's media caricature. It has made it into Edwards'.

And the numbers don't lie.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | May 13, 2006 2:38:08 PM

Neil -- the numbers don't lie when they say Edwards is far less well known or polarizing than the other guys polled. I'd say his numbers are innocuous rather than "good" -- Republicans don't reflexively hate him... yet... but that means nothing come time for a presidential race. What's remarkable about Atrios' numbers to me is how identical the favourables are for the Big Dems: it's like 50% of the population just says "favourable" when they hear any Dem name they recognize.

Posted by: Laura | May 13, 2006 3:20:25 PM

Well, the point the numbers make is that a lot more people are in play with Edwards than with anybody else. And we should recall that he has been on the bottom side of the ticket for a presidential race, so he hasn't been completely insulated. Admittedly, Republicans were directing most of their fire at Kerry, but VP candidates rarely come out of elections looking this good. And insofar as perceptions of him solidified in the minds of a fair number of Americans -- and the media -- without too much Republican interference, it's a good thing on its own.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | May 13, 2006 3:35:36 PM

Well, the point the numbers make is that a lot more people are in play with Edwards than with anybody else.

That seems wrong. At most you can say that it would cost less to acquire new voters with Edwards than with the others. But I don't think these numbers are necessarily persistent. Have you seen evidence that they are?

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | May 13, 2006 3:43:12 PM

They sure are, Tim! Check out the last couple Pew Polls -- in each of them, Edwards has a better favorability rating than any other Democrat among independents, Republicans, and the general population. Only Hillary has higher favorables among Democrats, and it's close. (The math is a little different at Pew, since they leave out people with no opinion, which ends up giving Edwards better favorability numbers than Bill Clinton.)

Here's the most recent one.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | May 13, 2006 3:54:01 PM

Lieberman was 44/24 and 42/25 in two polls taken December of '02, i.e. identical unfavaourables. Adjust for heightened partisanhsip today in the favourables and how well all the Dems do in this new poll and I'd say there's not much of a difference.

It's not that I don't think Edwards would make a decent candidate -- I just don't think these polls tell us much one way or the other. Unless the electorate gets a lot less partisan, by election day 2008 any Dem nominee is going to have unfavourables of around 45% just by default, and more depending on what his own voters think of him. Right now I think it would be a lot more about the mood of the electorate than the politician in question.

Posted by: Laura | May 13, 2006 4:06:39 PM

I'd vote for a Gore/Edwards ticket.

Two who CARE passionately about the Earth and its people.

Posted by: klevenstein | May 13, 2006 4:08:29 PM

I think Gore has the biggest room to move his favorables. His new movie isn't even out yet, and it's going to generate a lot of buzz. So maybe he'll get somewhere.

I also think Hillary's ratings are pretty misleading. Hillary would be able to take advantage of absurdly low expectations a la GWB. The right wing has run a ten year campaign to make Hillary Clinton into, I dunno, Medusa. All she has to do is convince the country that she doesn't breath fire and her ratings could change substantially.

That said, I'm still on the bandwagon with you, Neil :).

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | May 13, 2006 4:09:16 PM

They sure are, Tim! Check out the last couple Pew Polls
Sure, but nobody's actually campaigning yet, and none of these potential candidates have done anything newsworthy or controversial in the last few months. There's no reason that their name recognition or polling stats would have changed in that time.

If you're seriously pushing for Edwards, you'd do better to start citing all of his recent speeches, and work for progressive causes, rather than trying to convince us he's the guy because the polls say so. I think you could make a solid argument for him, but you're not doing it yet.

Posted by: Mike | May 13, 2006 4:12:15 PM

Hillary would be able to take advantage of absurdly low expectations a la GWB

I agree with Nicholas's point here. Hillary has very similar advantages to Bush in 2000. A brand name and extremely low expectations from her rivals. They've painted her as a murderer, a Lady MacBeth character, a lesbian and a communist. She can't help but look better than they've portrayed her. She's guaranteed to get free press from the celebrity-crazed media as well as the 'Anti-Hillary' bookclub and the Republican party, all of whom make loads of money just suggesting she could be the next president.

Honestly, this is what disturbs me most about a Hillary candidacy. Another candidate who feels she 'deserves' to be president and doesn't feel the need to actually make the case for herself. We saw this with Bush and later with Schwartzenegger who've managed mediocre to disastrous policies. Americans need to start demanding more from their candidates.

Posted by: Mike | May 13, 2006 4:23:17 PM

Well, Laura, you should adjust for the heightened partisanship on the unfavorable side too, right?

Mike, I do that too! Check out the post where I go over Edwards' surprisingly liberal views on civil liberties issues and abortion, or where I talk about how he'll be able to reshape debates in America so that poverty is seen as a moral issue, and effectively push for progressive goals. There's also an electability case to be made, though, so I make it when I have an occasion to do so.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | May 13, 2006 4:28:21 PM


I was curious about whether or not people's favorable/unfavorable rating stays the same throughout a campaign. That is, will Hillary necessarily be +11 in Nov. '08, or can the numbers be moved? I'd assumed that they could be moved, and that what moves them is money. But I'm happy to be corrected.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | May 13, 2006 5:08:32 PM

Ratings change, Tim, due to all sorts of things including money. (That's how things go with polls.) But there's a reason that everybody uses polls in making their plans -- they show you the current state of play. And the fact that a situation is advantageous in the beginning makes some contribution to its being advantageous in the end.

I disagree with Mike and Nicholas on Hillary, and I may post at length on the issue later this weekend.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | May 13, 2006 5:36:20 PM

Neil -- no, actually, I don't think you have to adjust on the unfavourables for partisanship. For one thing, it's just a far more partisan atmosphere and Edwards is a far more partisan character. So, in a partisan climate, when Dems and Dem-leaners hear his name, they're more likely to have a positive reaction rather than an "eh, whatever" one. That's my take. He's still an innocuous relative unknown, not unlike other non-Cheney former vp candidates -- and by default he should make a sort of positive point of contrast with the failed nominee. So I just don't think these favourable polls can tell us anything about how Edwards would fare in the heat of a campaign.

Tim -- check out the way Kerry's numbers moved over the course of the 2004 campaign. They were relatively stable until the end when they got really polarized (45-45) around election time. The thing is, I think that's going to happen to anybody we nominate who doesn't act really stupid during the campaign. We don't have a Cheney-figure who is just unpopular by definition.

Posted by: Laura | May 13, 2006 5:46:15 PM

Laura, the numbers in my post aren't from a poll of Democrats. They're of Republicans too. So partisanship should increase unfavorables as well as favorables, with Republicans and GOP-leaners having a negative reaction to any Democrat.

Now that you mention it, let's look at the Edwards 2004 numbers too.

According to Pew, he's at 58-24 in August, 49-31 in September, and 47-27 in October.

In Time, it's 42-24 in August, 44-30 in September, and 49-26 in October.

His worst-ever numbers in Newsweek are 45-37.

These are some pretty awesome numbers in the heat of an fiery campaign.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | May 13, 2006 6:05:51 PM

Neil: where's Edwards on foreign policy - on Iraq, on Iran, Israel/Palestine, on terror in general? I have at least some idea what Feingold, Gore, Clark and even Clinton would do, but I've heard nothing from Edwards except that he's said - three years too late - that invading Iraq was wrong, which puts him ahead of Hillary and Biden but doesn't exactly say much; at this point, saying the Iraq War was a mistake is a base requirement for not being a dribbling idiot, not a qualification for the presidency.

My biggest reservation about Edwards is that throughout the primaries in 2004 - and throughout much of the general - is that he dealt with national security the same way most weak Democratic candidates do: by running away from it. Changing the subject to poverty only works for so long; the only area where the Republicans still have an advantage is national security, which means they'll paint any Democrat as weak on terror. Is Edwards ready to punch back on that?

Posted by: Iron Lungfish | May 13, 2006 6:12:20 PM

Edwards is, compared to everyone else on that list, a.) a comparative unknown, and b.) not yet the recpient of a full fire-for-effect from the Wuerlitzer.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina | May 13, 2006 6:18:06 PM

These are some pretty awesome numbers in the heat of an fiery campaign.

Aside from the relatively tame "trial lawyer" line and the crack about not showing up for votes, Edwards didn't take too much heat during the campaign - certainly nowhere near as much heat as Kerry was. Swift Boat Vets, the "hundreds of votes" against the military, the spitballs crack, "flip-flopper," etc. - these were all directed at Kerry, and they were the smears that defined the campaign. Nobody noticed Edwards, which, if you'll recall, was actually one of the criticisms aimed at him by Dems in the last couple months. So it's not too surprising that he managed to keep his negatives relatively low.

Posted by: Iron Lungfish | May 13, 2006 7:13:11 PM

I like Edwards' chances due to something those poll numbers bring up - his unfavorables are significantly lower than anybody else's, and (as an above poster stated) they were pretty low even during election season.

As I see it, the reason for this is that Edwards is just not as polarizing as many of the other candidates. Most of the other Dems had a very strong connection to an issue that drives conservatives crazy: Clinton (Bill, Hillary, Gore), and Vietnam (Kerry). Edwards, on the other hand, doesn't give a whole lot of red meat to social conservatives and the like - his "Two Americas" theme is leveled squarely at big business conservatives - the group on whose behalf outrage is not nearly so easily feigned. In addition, aside from the possibility of some serious skeletons in the closet that he was able to hide for one election season, he seems to be a naturally politically savvy character who won't be prone to making the unfortunate number of missteps a number of candidates in the past have.

Likewise, although the characteristic most often used in speaking ill of him is "slick", he still doesn't come off as particularly condescending, and so I think he's got a good chance of winning over the populace with thematic appeals and the like.

Posted by: Jon O. | May 13, 2006 9:48:55 PM

People need to calm down about the NSA phone records stuff...I work in the fund raising office of a University and we do data mining projects daily to help us locate potential donors...it's not a big deal at all. And most of the stuff we find is much more personal than, say, what time you called your haridresser.

Posted by: John | May 13, 2006 10:12:06 PM

Lot I agree with there, Jon O.

John, it should be mentioned that your university probably didn't have the power to nab people off the street without trials and send them off to other countries to be tortured. That makes a big difference.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | May 13, 2006 10:27:01 PM

Um, John, how are you getting the phone records? Because I think it's illegal for the phone companies to give you that information without the explicit consent of the calling party. It's entirely possible I'm wrong about that, but that's my understanding.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | May 13, 2006 11:33:35 PM

Iron Lunfish I suspect you've taken a common term and given it new spin. I always heard "driveling idiot" - as in flogging nonsense - but the mental image of drool drops may take over.

Posted by: opit | May 14, 2006 2:08:34 AM

Edwards didn't talk about national security much, but when he did he sounded pretty confident and sure of himself, although he was self-contradictory on the Patriot Act. He helped write it, and said he gave powers to Ashcroft on the assumption they wouldn't be used. WTF?!

On Iraq he was pretty certain that it was the right thing to do in 2004, and has backed off that position mainly based on how incompetently the war has been waged. Which would not preclude him from doing his own warmaking should he be elected since he'll be confident he can manage it better than Bush did.

I think that the main reason Edwards has such good ratings is because he's positive and optimistic and doesn't make petty attacks on the opposition. You attack when you have a clear opening, not the Kos method of throwing everything at the wall in the hopes something will stick.

Posted by: Adam Herman | May 14, 2006 2:28:23 AM

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