On a daily basis, we’re told by all the pundits “This early in the presidential election, polls don’t mean much.” Then they trot out the latest numbers and make all sorts of comparisons.
They’re right, of course, about how little numbers mean 15 months out. Interesting, but predictive of nothing you can hang your hat on.
Still, there’s one polling category taken that I don’t see included very often and, to me, it means as much - or even more at times - than all the others. Even now. And that’s the “unfavorable” count.
The reason for the interest in “unfavorables,” is a case can be made voters falling into that category probably assured the unexpected 2016 victory of Trump.
Clinton was the clear polling leader going into that election with a good margin in her favor. But, underneath those numbers were her “unfavorables.” And they were sizeable. Over 50-percent.
Some of the pollsters I trust most have a similar interest in those figures and several have what seems to be a reasonable explanation for how they fit into her loss.
They opined people in that category looked at her - looked at him as an unknown - closed their eyes and voted for Trump. The unknown. Broken down by polling data such as age, education, race, economic and party indicators, their reasoning seems sound.
So, if you measured the “unfavorables” of all the Democrats running at the moment, who do you think would have the highest rating? My guess would be Biden.
Yes, he currently holds a wide lead over the rest of the pack when voters are asked who they favor. Solid lead. Good numbers. But, the same four decades of valuable experience Biden brings to the contest also work against him.
The reason for that is clear. Take the crime bill Congress passed in the ‘70's. Biden voted “no.” He had his reasons at the time. Given his experience, that vote may have seemed right. Then. But, nearly 40 years later, with crime in the streets and mass murders in our schools, churches, synagogues and the marketplace, it’s very difficult to face questions about such a vote in today’s campaign. So far, he hasn’t developed a clear response that makes sense under today’s conditions.
There were other votes of his that, at the time, were probably solid but which are now outdated. That’s the trouble with longevity, as I’m also finding out. Times change. Thinking changes. Issues evolve. Sanders and Warren, with years of elective service, also have some votes they’d probably like to take back. Or, would just as soon not talk about on the campaign trail. Same reasons. And both have sizeable “unfavorables.”
In current polling, yes, the figures are mushy and subject to change day-to-day. But, a pattern is developing that shows about 16 of the 20 candidates should seriously think about going back to their day jobs. Biden, Warren and Sanders have double-digit leads over everyone else. The numbers separating the top three change with each poll. But, the placement over the rest of the field doesn’t.
I’m especially disappointed in Beto. He’s not going to win the race and he’s not favored as a vice presidential pick. His numbers are bad and not likely to get better. At the same time, in his home state of Texas, incumbent John Cornyn is vulnerable in his re-election try. And, Beto, who came within three-percent of beating Ted Cruz in 2018, could likely beat Cornyn if local polling is accurate.
That U.S. Senate race is extremely important for Democrats, along with a couple of others because if they don’t take the Senate, the gridlock will continue. If O’Rourke continues his doomed campaign, you can write it off as an ego trip but it ain’t smart politics.
Pundits all talk about how important the 2020 election is. And they’re right! But, some of the presidential candidates - like Beto, Booker, Bullock and Gillibrand - seem more wrapped up in their own little worlds than considering the big picture. While Democrats stand to pick up even more of a majority in the House, the Senate is in doubt. And that’s where the action is.
Former Colorado Governor Hickenlooper saw the writing on the wall, dropped out of his losing presidential effort, and is running for the Senate against a troubled incumbent in what seems to be a “purple” state. Washington State Governor Inslee quit and decided to run for a third term at home. Good thinking by both men.
But, back to the “unfavorables.” If the media really wants to fulfill its role of helping voters be more informed about the candidates and issues, that number should get more attention and be used often. I’m certain the candidates know what they are. You can bet the farm Trump and his people know his.
Their importance weighed heavily in determining the 2016 race. They deserve a lot more public notice this time around.