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Mitch McConnell Is Keeping The Paranoid Style Of American Poll-Watching Alive

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MITCH MCCONNELL
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), listens to questions at a news conference following a GOP strategy session at the Capitol in Washington, Dec. 11, 2012. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), is at right. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) | AP

Here is an immutable law of politics: all fundraising letters need a villain. Another rule of politics is that all politicians need money. So, when the time comes to start passing the hat around your political constituency, you'd best be ready to conjure up a fierce enough bugaboo to get the folks back home to open their wallet and fork over some folding money.

It's nice when you can point to something your political opponent did that you can mount a substantive argument against on the merits. But failing that, you can always just revert to the paranoid style of American politics, and, you know ... tell people that the president is conspiring with Public Policy Polling to engineer your electoral defeat, with ... I don't know ... magic, or something? Ehh, don't worry about it, it does not have to make sense.

Raw Story's David Edwards reports on how campaign manager Jesse Benton has dreamed up this sinister White House-polling firm cabal for the purpose of preventing Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) reelection:

A poll released by the left-leaning firm on Tuesday indicated that only 37 percent of Kentucky voters approved of McConnell.

[...]

But in an email published by the Louisville Eccentric Observer on Thursday, McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton implied that Obama and other Democrats had conspired with PPP to fix the poll.

“Barack Obama and his allies told us what they were going to do,” Benton wrote. “They think if they can manufacture a difficult reelection for Senator McConnell back home in Kentucky then they can push our Leader around in Washington.”

Before we go any further, let's all delight in the fact that this email was first reported on by the Louisville Eccentric Observer. That's perfect. Well played, universe.

But more to the point, there is a grain of truth to what Benton is alleging -- Public Policy Polling does have Democratic-leaning "house effects," as do other polling firms. There are also polling firms with Republican-leaning "house effects." This is nothing diabolical -- the first priority of all of these firms is to try to be right. It's just the sort of thing that people like Mark Blumenthal, who do projections based on a bunch of poll results, have to keep in mind.

Leaving aside the fact that the White House isn't actually able to control how people respond to polling firms, and thus cannot use pollster results to "manufacture a difficult reelection for Senator McConnell" (pollsters can't actually control the way people answer questions, let alone vote in elections), the really weird part of Benton's claims is that Public Policy Polling's analysis of its own results did not result in it concluding that McConnell was facing a "difficult reelection." Here is what PPP said (emphasis added):

The reason McConnell does decently well in the head to head match ups despite his poor approval numbers is that even though a lot of Republicans dislike him, most of them would still vote for him in a general election before they would support a Democrat. This is the same phenomenon we saw in Florida and Pennsylvania this year where Bill Nelson and Bob Casey won by solid margins despite middling approval numbers because Democrats that weren't thrilled with them still voted for them. And although independents don't like McConnell they don't like most of the Democrats either, and they support McConnell in every match up we tested.

They conclude: "Kentucky is a tough state for Democrats -- but given how unpopular McConnell is and the lack of other opportunities for the party to play offense in 2014, this should be a race to watch."

I think the part where PPP explicitly "manufactures" a difficult election -- for Democrats! -- is pretty apparent to everyone with eyes.

But again, remember, this is from a fundraising email, and the whole point of a fundraising email is to rattle the cages of McConnell supporters in order to get them to give up some green, so to a certain extent, this isn't a particularly noteworthy missive from the office of Mitch McConnell. That doesn't mean there's not a cause for concern. The letter continues:

“The partisan PPP polling company, which has been used as a tool for Obama Democrats to manufacture circumstances that don’t exist all across the country, descended upon Kentucky to proclaim that Senator McConnell has a 37% approval rating. The poll is laughable. But, the liberal press is gobbling it right up.”

“What was really surprising was that even cooked books couldn’t produce a Democrat candidate who could beat Senator McConnell head to head."

That, to me, reads disturbingly like Benton is still on a "pre-11/6" footing, in which "math" and "numbers" are biased and need to be "unskewed." Again, it's possible that the optimal way to get McConnell fans in particular to part with their money is to hit 'em with these kinds of baroque ghost stories. But these stories of "cooked" polls and "manufactured circumstances" are the sweet lies that the GOP told themselves to death in 2012 ... the sort of things that I thought they might be ready to move beyond.

Maybe not! But, you know, whatever pays the bills.

READ THE WHOLE THING:
McConnell suggests Obama ‘manufactured’ poll to make him ‘most unpopular’ senator [Raw Story]

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