Chanting Points Memo: Puff

Who’s a better actor; Scarlett Johannson or Donald Rumsfeld?

Now, if you’re a sophisticated polling operation like the Star/Tribune “Minnesota Poll” – a Mason-Dixon joint – it’s an easy question; Ms. Johannson will likely outpoll the former Secretary of Defense.

Of course, you may respond “but measuring a Secretary of Defense in terms of acting skill is meaningless!”

And if you say that, then you’re already too smart to buy the latest Minnesota poll.


The final Star/Tribune Minnesota poll of this long, nauseating week was released this morning – and it has two conclusions:

After two years of budget battles, vetoes and the longest state shutdown in Minnesota history, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is winning the popularity battle with the GOP-controlled Legislature, a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll has found.

A slim majority of 53 percent of likely voters say they approve of Dayton’s job performance, while 31 percent disapprove. Another 16 percent say they are undecided.

For the majority leaders of the Legislature, the poll found 51 percent disapprove of the job they are doing. Another 21 percent approve and 24 percent are undecided.

This poll really needs two responses.

Damnation With Faint Praise

The poll notes that Governor Dayton scored a 53 percent approval rating.

Now, on its face, that’s not a good number.  Under 50%, says conventional wisdom, is trouble – and Dayton is a governor that’s done virtually nothing in two years but make odd, slurred pronouncements before scuttling away into his office under the cover of a fawning media.

But as always, you have to look below “the face”.  Of course, the poll has the same absurd, worse-than-Watergate-level turnout model – Democrats 41, Republicans 28 – as all the other polls this week.

However, for some reason the Strib doesn’t favor us with the full range of crosstabs; while reporter Jim Ragsdale notes the Governor’s geographic strengths and weaknesses, at no point in the article is the approval of Republicans or Democrats explained.

Is this an accident?  Or would showing it reveal something about the poll the Strib doesn’t want us to see?

Because if we assume Democrats are over-polled by 3%, and that they were the vast majority of the “approve” numbers, then Dayton’s approval drops down to right around 50% – and the “disapprove” numbers jump into the high thirties if we assume most Republicans disapprove of Dayton’s job.

Of course, it’s all guesswork until the Strib releases those crosstabs.

Damnation By Packing Peanuts

Of course, the numbers on the legislature are just plain nonsense

For the majority leaders of the Legislature, certain trouble spots stand out: Only 24 percent of voters in the metro suburbs outside of Hennepin and Ramsey — which include strong GOP areas — approve of their leadership, while more than half disapprove. In southwestern Minnesota, 57 percent disapprove. They had slightly stronger showings in Rochester, where 30 percent approve, and in the northwest corner of the state at 33 percent.

This is just a stupid thing to measure.

Grading a legislature, as an entire body, all together, is like asking what a football fan thinks of the NFC Central Division.  You will get a dog’s breakfast of opinions, or no opinion – because the division is not the focus (except for bracketing playoffs).

Put another way?  Nobody is going to vote for “The Legislature” this fall.   They will vote for or against candidates.  I will be voting for Rick Karschnia for State Senate and Dan Lipp for House; not “for the legislature” or even “for the House GOP caucus”.  And I”m a wonk! 
Indeed, this next paragraph sums up the absurdity of the whole question:

One startling figure is that the GOP-controlled Legislature only broke even among Republican voters: 31 percent approve, 32 percent disapprove and 37 percent are undecided. Undecided numbers are higher throughout the Legislature’s poll, suggesting many voters do not have a clear opinion on the topic.

Well, dug.

I disapproved of the Legislature’s job!   The GOP caucuses gave away too much money in 2011 and caved on the stadium last year without getting anything useful in return!  I give them a “D”.

Does that mean I’m going to support Mark Dayton?  Not if you held a gun to my head (not to give the SEIU any ideas).

It’s a meaningless number.

So Why Run A Poll With A Meaningless Number?

That one’s easy; it gives the Strib a nice tidy number – 53-21 approval ratings! – to toss in front of people who don’t pay much attention to what the numbers actually mean.  These voters – the “Low-Information Voters”, people who retain headlines from the Mainstream Media and believe things that appear in the Strib – are the target for this sort of polling, or as it’s known in the world of logic, a “non-sequitur”.  The Strib is comparing apples and axles, just like comparing Donald Rumsfeld with Scarlett Johannsen.

While the individual numbers might be valid (they’re not – remember, the turnout model is absurd), at least in terms of math used to generate the numbers we see – but even if both numbers were in fact dead-nut accurate, what the Strib has done is created a phony horserace.

And why would the Strib splash a phony, non-sequitur comparison on its front page when it only serves to show Mark Dayton with a decisive (if phony) lead…

…oh, wait.

Never mind.

More Monday.

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