Sunday, February 03, 2008

"Hopelessly Addicted To The Bill-Hurts-Hillary Narrative" (Greg Sargent)

This little item might fit into a category entitled "The Perils of Being Taken In By Campaign Reporting Group-Think" ... but it's also about Bill Clinton's continuing popularity (deserved or not) among most Democrats.

Over the past month it has gradually become part of the taken-for-granted conventional wisdom in the punditry echo-chamber that Bill Clinton's high-profile participation in Hillary Clinton's campaign has been hurting it, that the scale of Hillary's defeat in South Carolina was caused by voters turned off by Bill's campaign tactics, that there is increasingly widespread popular uneasiness against the idea of of a Clinton restoration, and so on.

Maybe, maybe not. I know people for whom some of this is true, and other people for whom it's not. On balance, are there actually large-scale trends in this direction?

The unflappable Greg Sargent, who doesn't appear to be a partisan of either Obama and Clinton, has been offering some useful reality checks on these and other matters (in his TPM blog of and about political reporting, The Horse's Mouth). As Sargent pointed out a few days ago, there is actually no solid evidence to back up all these confident assertions that "Bill's antics have damaged Hillary's candidacy," and certainly not "to the extent pundits and commentators claim."
Will Bill prove to have damaged Hillary among voters in the long term? Again: It's perfectly possible. But we simply don't know right now. What is obvious, though, is that this sort of interpretation tells us far more about the obvious desire some political reporters have for the story to be that Bill is destroying Hillary's candidacy than it does about what's actually happening here.
=> Today Sargent offers us some intriguing Clinton-related factoids from a new Pew Research Center poll. Any mention of public-opinion polls ought to be preceded by the reminder that we shouldn't take polling results too seriously, and in this primary season there predictive reliability hasn't been outstanding. Nevertheless, in light of the punditry's consensus about a widespread anti-Bill-Clinton backlash, voters' responses to some questions about Bill Clinton in this poll are worth noting (see below).

=> Let me make it clear that I'm not reporting these poll results because I think they're substantively significant, nor do I have any idea whether or not they're even correct. But they may help to remind us that we ought to take the various bits of group-think from the commentariat with a grain of salt. And, as I said, I can't help finding these factoids intriguing.

--Jeff Weintraub
Greg Sargent - The Horse's Mouth (TPM)
February 3, 2008
Memo To Pundits: New Poll Finds That Number Of Dems Who Like Idea Of Bill Back In White House Hasn't Budged

Hmmm. It'll be interesting indeed to see if these new poll numbers get any play from all the pundits who said that Bill recent escapades have created a liability for Hillary against Obama.

A new Pew poll was released today, and it's the first survey I've seen that deals with these questions since the racial dust-ups prompted pundits and commentators to assert that -- finally, definitely, really this time, no really -- Bill is dragging Hillary's candidacy down.

The poll asked respondents whether they "like or dislike the idea of Bill Clinton back in the White House." Guess what percentage of Dems said they "like" this idea?

Sixty eight percent -- exactly the same percentage that answered this way back in October of 2007. The number of Dems who said they "dislike" this idea is now at 12% -- a statistically insignificant two points higher than October 2007. The poll also finds that Bill's "favorability rating also has not slipped from where it stood in late December."

Even more interesting, despite the roar of commentary denouncing Bill for playing the race card, the poll also finds that Bill's favorability rating among blacks has remained stable at 79%.

Now, because this blog strives to be as fair-minded as possible, it also bears noting that the percentage of voters in general who dislike the idea of Bill returning -- as opposed to just Dems -- has in fact gone up by a single digit margin. More independents say they're uncomfortable with this prospect, the poll says. So one could point to these numbers and say that perhaps Bill's antics could damage Hillary in a general election. This could be problematic.

But as for whether Bill is hurting Hillary against Obama, as multiple pundits have been asserting, there's simply no evidence yet that this is happening. Is it possible that this is what's going on? Anything's possible. But Bill's numbers remain stable among Dems, which seems like a decent enough indicator, to say the least.