April 12, 2002
Cynicism and polling

Charles Dodgson disputes Josh Marshall's take on the Joshua Green story about how much Team Bush has spent on polling. Says Dodgson

It's not as if I've been any particular friend of the Bush administration, but complaining that it's "cynical" for them to even hire a pollster is naive. And complaining about remarks from Bush administration officials, including Bush himself, which soft-pedal and downplay the use of polls (even though they do in fact use them) isn't much better; to some extent, they're just acknowledging the difference Green pointed out.

He also agrees with Mickey Kaus that Bush's use of polling to spin unpopular ideas is not cynical but arguably more righteous than Bill Clinton's use of polling to determine a course of action. You can certainly make the case that Bush is using polls to figure out how best to convince the country that his ideas are optimal, rather than using them to find easy pickings. I personally don't buy it, but it's a defensible position.

But I don't understand why Dodgson says he doesn't understand why Bush's use of polling is cynical. The problem is not that polling, whether for Bushian or Clintonian means, is inherently a Bad Thing. The problem is that Team Bush made a big deal on the campaign trail about being different from Clinton, and one of the ways in which they are different is that they eschew polls. As author Green wrote

[It's] a strategy that has served Bush extremely well since he first launched his campaign for president---the myth that his administration doesn't use polling. As Bush endlessly insisted on the campaign trail, he governs "based upon principle and not polls and focus groups."

They made a big deal about not using polls when in fact they do use polls and go to some trouble to hide that fact. What would you call that if not cynical?

UPDATE: Dodgson responds to me, saying that Team Bush is using polls to spin and not govern. I think we may just be arguing semantics here. Perhaps what they've done is merely weaselly and not actually cynical. I'll say again that polling is not a Bad Thing, for the reasons Dodgson cites. I just think that claiming to not use polls when in fact you do - for spin or for policy - is a Bad Thing.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 12, 2002 to Show Business for Ugly People