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Rahm Emanuel Wins Unscientific Poll

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Writing at Ben Smith's eponymous blog, Gabriel Beltrone takes note of an "off-the-cuff, and relatively unscientific" poll, conducted by We Ask America, in which "2,365 Chicagoans" are asked who they would choose as mayor of Chicago and, lo and behold, the winner is White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel!

How "unscientfic" is this poll? Really, really unscientific. It's made pretty clear, actually, that no real "science" was even attempted:

As we pull the trigger on this poll, we've found 40+ possible candidates mentioned in published reports, with more queuing up for consideration. We wanted to narrow it down to ten (because there's only ten digits on a phone for an automated poll), so we added up the articles and chose the ten who were mentioned in the most clippings -- not exactly as precise our usual polls...but what the heck. This is for fun.

Emphasis in the original. So, if you add up the news clippings, you get ten people, whip them up in a sack together and voila! Of course, how many news clippings have been generated about Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago mayorship in the past year? Or the past 72 hours? It's likely been enough to edge Emanuel into a field of people who've earned their place on grounds more substantive than Beltway gossip.

Yes, this was just for fun, and we like fun. But it highlights a key matter that's everyone has basically lost sight of since the beginning of this news frenzy: in order to really make the claim that Rahm Emanuel has a legitimate shot at being the next mayor of Chicago, you really have to ignore almost everything you know about practical politics.

Assuming that Emanuel bails on the administration the day after the midterms, that gives him less than four months to gin up a campaign out of whole cloth. He'll be going up against a field of candidates who will have at least an eight-week headstart in getting their organization together. And most of what are seen as Rahm's advantages -- his political career, name recognition -- are perceptions of a Beltway media looking at a Beltway celebrity. The actual people who actually live in Chicago aren't part of the equation.

Meanwhile, what do scientific polls of actual Chicagoans say? They say that Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and Illinois State Senator James Meeks lead a wide-open field, with Emanuel edging out Gery Chico for fifth place, and 35% of respondents saying they "Don't know." That large pool of undecideds make it a horse race, but again, Rahm will be leaving the gates eight weeks after the rest of the horses.

Still, you can bet that someone, somewhere, will lend some form of credence to the "for fun" poll that puts Emanuel ahead. And why not? When you allow hype to trump every practical fact you know about politics, you can pretty much say anything you like.

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