Jun 13, 2009

Why Gallup's "Who Leads the Republican Party" Poll Is Idiotic

Gallup (or those who link to Gallup) have made a big thing over the new poll saying that, while 58% of people say that Barack Obama is the head of the Democratic party, no large plurality can say that about anyone on the Republican side.

The interpretations of the poll are stupid on their face. Why? Well, let's see.

Take two seconds and think about the world in 2005. George W. Bush had just won reelection, and Republicans increased their majorities in both the House and Senate. Who, tell me, was the leader of the Democratic party at the time? Howard Dean? John Kerry? Nancy Pelosi? Harry Reid?

The fact is, when a party is out of power in both the presidency and congress, it has no publicly identifiable leader. The putative head is the chairman of the party, but, honestly, that means nothing. Very few people could name Howard Dean in 2006. He was the 'leader' of the party, though, supposedly.

It was different in a year like, say, 1996. Newt Gingrich was the head of the Republicans because he was the single member of the GOP taking on President Clinton, the head of the Democrats. That changed in 2001, when Republicans took control of both political branches for the first time since 1955. Suddenly, the Democrats were looking for a new leader.

My basic point is that when a party is out of power, especially when it is completely out of power--neither controlling the presidency nor either house of congress--it has no leader that the public can see. It may have 'spokesmen', but no single figurehead.

What is more surprising to me, though the spin doesn't twirl this way, is that only 58% of people say that President Obama is the leader of his party. That either means a large percentage of Americans are clueless to the way our party system works or that Democrats (and the President) have failed pretty badly in convincing the polity that he is not only one of them, but their standard-bearer.

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