Carville the carnival barker


The latest James Carville-inspired Democracy Corps polling in so-called battleground congressional districts is entertaining, as is most everything the Ragin’ Cajun touches. We learn that Republican incumbents are on the verge of being gunned down like Pickett’s men charging up that hill at Gettysburg. The poll’s summary memorandum’s headlines are relentless. “Republican vote falling.” “Republican incumbents out of touch with districts.” “Republicans now lose the healthcare debate. “ “The Ryan budget: Vulnerability.” Can’t catch a break, can we? And we learn that Democrats are going to scare seniors on Medicare after they frighten recently poor folks with threats of being “pushed back into poverty” by Republicans. 

I can just see the Carville Democrats laughing and giving themselves high-fives as they celebrate the pending total evisceration of the Republican brand they so abhor, along with the motley members of Congress who march under that banner. The poll proves it. We Republicans should negotiate surrender before the Democrats come for our spouses and children. There is no love for Republicans.

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Do they really believe all this stuff? Or do they realize it’s mostly what the Good Book calls “the noisy gong or clanging cymbal” of those who have no love in their hearts? This is vintage propaganda. Page after page of mind-numbing tables compare the past two or three elections with this one, arriving at favorable conclusions while ignoring equally plausible conclusions to the contrary. The central thesis — that Republican incumbents in 2012 are even more vulnerable than 2008 Democrat incumbents — is feebly demonstrated. But what the exposition lacks in logic and credence, it compensates for in false empiricism. “We know we’re right,” the message seems to be, “because we are presenting a lot of tables and data and something here must say we’re winning.” My favorite technique is the one-sided argument testing. For example, poll respondents were told that Republican incumbents “voted to slash and privatize Medicare, massively cut healthcare spending for seniors and freeze spending under inflation, which will force seniors to pay $6,000 more a year for their healthcare.” Was a Republican perspective on the Democrats’ plan for Medicare tested? No. That wouldn’t have rung the gong. No love for Republicans. More high-fives all around!

I finally gave up on the prepared memo and went right to the actual data and polling results. Here are a few things not highlighted in the memo predicting the savage deaths of Republicans everywhere. First, the authors didn’t deal with the problem known as Obama. Forty-two percent of the voters in these battleground districts strongly disapprove of the job being done by Barack Obama as president. Only 30 percent strongly approve. So the net difference among voters with intense opinions — and that’s what really counts — is a  negative 12 points for the president and Democrats. How is that going to kill the elephant?

The Cajun and his minions also ignore their feeling thermometer, which also shows a negative 12 net difference in sentiment against “the new healthcare reform law.” This is surprising, given that top-line memoranda of analysis assure readers that Republicans are losing the healthcare debate.

A larger view that I discerned was that neither party, per se, is winning, Ragin’ reasoning aside. Most differences between the parties on key issues were in the margin of error, one way or another. Party labels won’t win or lose this election; candidates will, even if that doesn’t please Democrats like Carville. All the cross-tabs and push questions in the world can’t beat an incumbent who is serving his or her constituents, staying in touch and taking care of business. James knows this, but he just can’t help himself. He was born with a corndog in his mouth that makes the carnival barking come naturally.


David Hill is a pollster that has worked for Republican candidates and causes since 1984.


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