THE BLOG

Dispatches: "Politics of Purpose" vs. "Tactics?"

02/18/2009 05:56 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This post is part of Pollster.com's week-long series on Stan Greenberg's new book, Dispatches from the War Room.

I find the whole debate between the "politics of purpose" versus "tactics" to be a pretty silly one. There are several strategic factors that will drive a campaign to be about either big or small things, including the overall mood of the public, the ideological perspective of the candidate (or lack thereof), the distinctions between the two parities on key issues (or lack thereof) and the political skills of the candidate. Ideally, you want to have an election over big philosophical differences in which you can highlight your candidate in a favorable light. I applaud Stan for wanting to be involved with politicians and campaigns that are about watershed issues and seminal ideas but the reality is that most are not.

The fact that pollsters like Dick Morris (and many, many others) moved to tactics during a time when there were few big issues is not only unsurprising but probably the right thing to do. During much of the 1990s there were few perceptible ideological or issue differences between the two parties and pollsters had to look "micro." This, of course, changed around 2005 and had become a chasm by 2008, and just about everyone--with the possible exception of Mark Penn--realized it.

Update: Greenberg responds here. Follow the complete series here.