Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Way We Live Now

Today's title is that of an 1875 novel by Anthony Trollope.

Whom do you hate?

The other day I said that the 2008 presidential election would in essence be a referendum on Hillary Clinton: do you love her or do you hate her? I may have spoken too soon--not that the principle is incorrect, but rather that it is one case of a more general proposition, that the election will be decided by which candidate is hated the least.

Evidence? Just as the Hillary phenomenon came to light when Ron Paul test-polled as well against her as any of the leading Republican possibles, so now we find that Joe Biden polls as well against either Giuliani or Romney as any of the big-three leading Democrats.

As Rasmussen Reports notes, "To the extent he is allowed to talk and is noticed by political reporters, Biden gets credit for workmanlike performance in the Democratic debates. But he is barely better known now among the electorate than he was a year ago." So the numbers--40% versus 42% against Giuliani, 39% to 39% against Romney--don't reflect some bizarre groundswell of affection for Joe Biden (which is too bad, as he and Richardson are probably the best-qualified candidates on either side); rather, they reflect the resistance of a large fraction of the electorate to Messrs. Giuliani and Romney. Indeed, almost all of the major players on each side have remarkable percentages of voters who assert they would "never" vote for them: 44% of voters say they will definitely vote against Clinton if she is on the ballot in 2008, while 40% say the same about Giuliani and Thompson.

So what we seem to have arrived at is selection of the most important elective official in the known universe by the principle of marginally lower detestation rates. Wonderful.

By the way, if you want polling data, the Rasmussen reports site is a good one-stop shopping center, being, in my estimation, about as good as they come. (If you're looking at any polling about Iowa, one litmus test is whether the polling organization clearly differentiates results for voters in general and for voters highly likely to participate in a caucus.) There's an intelligent FAQ about polling at the excellent site (at which there is presently only a little to see, but as the election draws nearer, watch it often.)

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