Thursday, February 24, 2005


Is Zogby Fishing for Wedge Issues?

During the presidential campaign I got myself on the list for Zogby’s goofy internet poll. Wasn’t hard. Just went to the website and volunteered. I’ve received, and taken, a few more since the election. Seems like the post-election doldrums must have hit pretty hard in the polling industry this cycle. The fist poll or two contained more fluff about how St. Valentines Day should or should not be celebrated and such stuff than about anything substantive.

With this latest poll, though, it looks like it is back to business. Sure, there was the stuff about St. Patrick’s Day and assorted puff and fluff, but there was a whole series of questions that could be indicative of something Republicans had better be aware of: Zogby is fishing for wedge issues to drive apart religious conservatives and less religious, less conservative members of the Bush voting coalition. And you can bet that somebody is sponsoring that fishing trip.

I don’t claim to be an expert. I do have some background in political polling, and I did work a stint with a nationally known pollster. I know something about how this industry works. Now Zogby is himself a Democrat. Don’t let anybody, including Zogby, tell you otherwise. So it’s possible this fishing expedition is just his own whim. But many people don’t realize that pollsters are often commissioned to develop a poll to meet the specific criteria of the client, or even hired to administer a poll actually assembled by the client. So it is likely that these questions originated with someone, Zogby or a third-party client, with an agenda to pursue.

Anyone who believes that political pollsters are only interested in scientifically and objectively gauging public opinion is just plain naïve. Sure, polls are intended to collect information and assess public opinion, but many are structured to “push” the person taking the poll in a certain direction, or “attack” a candidate or issue. And even when the poll IS a fairly neutral information-gathering exercise, it is still gathering information which the person paying for the poll hopes to be able to use against an opponent, or for the benefit of his side of an issue.

Without going into specific questions, which would raise legal – and ethical – issues, until and unless Zogby releases the questions himself, let me assure you that someone is trying very hard to gauge the attitudes of those identifying them selves as “Republican” on issues of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnic background, religion and abortion, and to filter those attitudes to determine at what point the conservatives, and especially religious conservatives, might part company with less conservative Republicans.

Conclusion: someone, and I have a sneaking suspicion it’s not just Zogby, is trying to frame a set of issues that will drive wedges between religious conservatives and the rest of the Republican Party. A set of issues on which positions can be taken which will separate more moderate or liberal republicans from conservative Republicans, and allow a Democrat a chance to pick off more centrist Republican voters. Sort of a reversal of the “Reagan Democrat” phenomenon.

Someone is trying to figure out the “magic words” to throw around in a Democratic campaign aimed at moving back to the right and away from the loony left. Someone is trying to formulate a message intended to isolate conservatives, and especially religious conservatives. Probably someone who is already publicly trying to portray him or herself as a “moderate”, someone who is already running a presidential campaign for 2008. Someone who has no intention of following Soros and Dean off the cliff.

Republicans in general, and conservatives in particular, had better be watching out for this trend. Conservatives alone did not elect Bush. Conservatives alone cannot win a presidential election. And conservatives can ask the Democrats: it doesn’t matter how big a group you are, less than 50% is still a minority. It would not take much of a shift at the center to leave conservatives as out in the cold as liberals are now.

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