Marginal Notes On A Marginal Poll

I’m going to go back to Dave Mindeman’s piece at mnpACT, about the most recent Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey of Minnesota politics, for the numbers on some issues that don’t pertain to Governor Dayton and the Legislature.

Minnesota’s constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage is headed for a close vote. 48% of voters say they support it while 44% are opposed.

I neither support nor oppose the Amendment, but I have a fearless prediction; if the PPP poll, which trends a little left and features a left-heavy sample, calls it a four point race today, it’ll be 49-41 in November.

Let’s go back to the whole “people like their own bastards” bit:  Mindeman, mindful of the poll results, asks:

So, WHERE is the DFL candidates for MN-02 and MN-06 ? MN-03 and MN-08 seem to have multiple candidates in the mix …. if there are going to be any coattails from the top to help the State Legislature candidates, doesn’t there need to be someone in every district ?

There are two answers:  First, it’s further evidence that people like their own bastards; while national polling shows that Congress is less popular than Slobodan Milosevic, it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to know that John Kline and Michele Bachmann will win their districts by 30 and 15 points respectively, even if the Dems endorsed Zombie JFK to run for the office.

“Even though Congress is unpopular?”

Yep.  As noted earlier today, polls of legislative bodies as a whole are almost always misleading.  Congress may be unpopular; Kline and Bachmann are not.

BTW … do you think the mature approach that Governor Dayton has taken on the Vikiings stadium has helped … even if the taxpayers don’t want to pay for it, they sure don’t want to the lose the business … and obviously the Governor is trying.

If by “mature approach” Mindeman means coming out of his closet long enough to croak “Uh want ivverbaddy to git to WOARK and sulve the prollum”, then retreating to the closet and letting the Legislature, the cities, the counties, the NFL and Wilf do all the work?  It may or may not be “mature”, but it’s certainly easier on the poll numbers.

Chanting Points Memo: “The People Love Dayton And Hate The Legislature!”

This particular chanting point has been making the rounds this week – a “Public Policy Polling” (PPP) survey appears to show that Mark Dayton is dreamily popular, and the people just can’t stand the GOP-run legislature.

It’s made the rounds of most of the mainstream media, the leftyblogs, and the lowest of the bunch, the  City Pages.  I figured I’d pick on Dave Mindeman at mnpACTttp and his take on it because unlike way too many Twin Cities leftybloggers, he’s articulate, recites the chanting point pretty much verbatim, and is otherwise not an idiot.

Mark Dayton’s numbers have improved since PPP last polled Minnesota in May and he’s one of the most popular Governors in the country.

Now, the numbers would seem to bear that statement out.  Let’s unpack them before we move on.

In observing PPP polls over the past couple of cycles, their results seem to consistently fall a little to the left of how Minnesota reality eventually shakes out.  Not in an egregions-to-the-point-of-fraud kind of way, like the Humphrey Institute or Strib Minnesota polls, but it’s noticeable.

I also think – and this is a theory, not something I’m stating as fact, but a decade of observation has led a lot of us on the right to wonder if there’s something to it – that liberals are much more prone to answer polls, especially in between election cycles.

Let’s ignore both of those for the moment.  Let’s talk about the surface indicators for this polling:

A little belated birthday present for Mark. Dayton has an approval rating of 53%, while disapproval is at 34% — a 19% spread.

The numbers have led Mindeman – and most other lefties – to a misleading conclusion.  Not wrong – I’m not telling people not to trust their lying eyes – but there’s more in those numbers than meets the eye.  Mindeman and the rest of the lefties are ignoring a key bit of American political behavior.

The poll covers the time between the shutdown and the present – when Dayton really didn’t do anything.  For that matter, he really didn’t do anything during the last session, or the shutdown.  He’s been for the most part a non-entity.  And if you don’t do anything – either positive or negative – then your numbers are going to be juuuuust fine.  Or at least fairly steady.

(Opposite case in point – Tim Pawlenty, who fought a two-court DFL advantage in 2009 and 2010 with aggression and passion.  He did not sit in his office drinking Kombucha or, given his hockey-playing pedigree, PBR, and his poll numbers showed it.  They were “lived-in”.  Who was a better governor?  Depends, now, doesn’t it?)

During the session, and the shutdown, it was the Legislature that did all the heavy lifting.  Dayton sat in his office, released the occasional demand, and until his final, fatal tour around the state, where he realized that getting behind his own plan would be political suicide, really did nothing.  And after that tour, when he folded his cards, he did so quietly, minimizing if not the GOP’s victory at least his own defeat.

In other words, he’s played defense.  He’s sat back and let the other guys take the hit.  The media, naturally, abet this behavior.

And in a state as polarized as Minnesota is, when you actually do things, you will take the hit – especially given our DFL-owned-and-operated media, whose interest in fluffing Dayton is obvious and constant.

And the Legisature has done things – affirmative things during the session and the shutdown, many of which pissed off Democrats and a few of which irritated the more conservative, and also not-so-affirmative things that have been all over the news lately.  Of course, sitting back and being passive-aggressive, like Dayton, was not an option for the Legislative branch; they were sent to Saint Paul on a mission, and the mission wasn’t going to get done without some serious action, and given the number of GOP freshmen who said they didn’t care if they only served a term, some fallout was to be expected.  It was inevitable.

But there’s more.

Dayton may get himself an easier legislature to work with next year. Democrats lead the generic legislative ballot in the state by a 48-39 margin. If that holds through November they should win back a whole lot of the seats they lost in 2010. It’s not that legislative Democrats are popular- only 31% of voters have a favorable opinion of them to 49% with a negative one. But legislative Republicans have horrible numbers. Their favorability rating is 23% with 62% of voters viewing them negatively. That honeymoon wore off real fast.

And here Mindeman and the rest of the metro chattering class fall into the seductive charms of drawing using high-level data to draw high-level conclusions on low-level questions.  Mindeman – and the entire regional left – have scoped the data wrong. I suggest.  The fact is that “generic” never manages to get endorsed to run for the Legislature.

The Legislature will take popularity hits – they, as a body, did all the work.

The Legislature, as a body, will always lag a do-nothing governor under those circumstances.  Just like Congress does.

But aggregate polls of the entire Legislature – those mythical “generic” legislators – are meaningless, just like aggregate polls of Congress.  People may want to vote the bastards in general out, but people tend, generally, to support their own bastard.  There are exceptions – they voted a lot of incumbent “bastards” out in 2006 and 2010 – but as a very general rule, unless you have a wave election, incumbency has its virtues.  This election may be many things – it may return both chambers of Congress to the GOP – but I don’t think anyone’s predicting a wave yet.

Tack on the fact that PPP polls trend left, that poll respondents this early in the cycle trend left, that the PPP poll was of registered voters (who always trend left), and the fact that the poll is meaningless, and the additional fact that redistricting – provided that it reflects actual demographic shifts rather than the DFL’s rhetoric – should favor the GOP, and I’m a lot less worried about this poll than the DFL, media (ptr) and the chattering classes want you to be.

And despite those numbers the GOP legislature continues to play ultra partisan games.

Well, yeah, Dave.  They know the numbers are meaningless.  So does the DFL.