On Sympathy and Truth

There’s been a lot of talk today about Gallup’s newest poll about Sarah Palin’s decision to resign.  Let’s break Gallup’s findings down:

A new USA Today/Gallup poll conducted Monday night finds a core of 19% of U.S. voters who say they are “very likely” to vote for her should she run, and an additional 24% who are somewhat likely to do so, giving her a decent reservoir of potential support to build upon. However, nearly as many voters (41%) currently say they would be not at all likely to vote for her.

Well, not good, not bad. I guess you could call that a break-even.

By way of comparison, when Gallup in 2005 asked a similar question about Hillary Clinton running for president in 2008, 52% of registered voters said they were at least somewhat likely to vote for her, including 28% who said they were very likely to do so.

Predictably, most Democratic registered voters (70%) say they are not at all likely to vote for Palin. While most Republican registered voters (72%) say they are likely to vote for Palin, only about half of these (35% of all Republican voters) can be considered solid supporters who say they are very likely to support Palin at this time.

Okay, Palin’s body of support isn’t as great as Clinton’s was four years ago, and Democrats are still pretty opposed to her.  Republicans, though, continue to view her pretty favorably, and even then, many are not stalwart members of the party faithful. There’s a bit about how she may have a future in a non-electoral, but still political role, and then this:

Palin’s announcement last Friday may have taken many political observers by surprise, but the data show her decision to resign the governorship did not affect most Americans’ opinions of her. The poll finds 70% saying their opinion of Palin has not changed as a result of her resignation. Though this is clearly the minority of Americans, more say their opinion of her has gotten worse (17%) than improved (9%).

I’m not really sure how you can read that as anything but negative.  If one is to build a base for electoral support, one needs to be expanding those who view you favorably, rather than keeping it stagnant or even losing some. Moving on:

Palin was a relatively unknown political figure when tapped to be John McCain’s running mate, but she quickly energized the GOP ticket, drawing large crowds to their rallies during the presidential campaign. But news coverage of her quickly took a negative turn and many in the political world came to view her as a drag on the McCain campaign.

Palin herself has argued that she has been unjustly attacked by the news media, and most Americans seem to agree. The new poll finds 53% describing the news media’s coverage of Palin as “unfairly negative,” while just 9% say it has been “unfairly positive” and 28% say it has been “about right.”

When Gallup asked a similar question about news coverage of Palin shortly after the Republican National Convention last September, Americans were more evenly divided in their views, with 33% saying the coverage was unfairly negative and the plurality of 36% saying it was about right. At that time, 21% thought the media were being unfairly positive toward Palin.

Okay fair enough. I’m not particularly surprised that some folks think she’s been treated unfairly and feel a bit sympathetic.  Hey! I totally disagree with the woman’s political views (whatever they are, because they seem a bit amorphous) and think she’s bonkers, but even I think she deserves a little sympathy.  She’s clearly going through a tough moment in her life, and doesn’t really know how best to navigate the waters.  And people have begun to voice their negative opinion of her much more vehemently, so that could be adding to the sympathy factor.

So now we’ve both read everything there was to read in the GAllup poll.  Many liberal blogs have used the poll as evidence that Palin’s support isn’t much to start with, and this move didn’t really change her standing with Democrats or Independents, constituencies that she would need to court in order to actually win the White House (if not the Republican nomination).  I would also argue that with her numbers worse than Hillary’s, it looks even more dire.  Hillary was a polarizing figure whom I was pretty sure had little chance of swaying opinion about her too much — you were with her, or you were against here.  With Palin’s numbers hovering way below Clinton’s, I feel much the same way.

That doesn’t mean something can’t change, but it seems unlikely — and that’s even if she’s planning on running for president.

I write all of this to bring up this completely asinine “analysis” from Chris Cillizza, in which he mentions the percentage of Gallup poll respondents who think Palin’s been unfairly maligned by the media:

The Gallup numbers affirm something of a blowback against Palin’s detractors. Can Palin take advantage of this groundswell of sympathy to fundamentally alter the way she is perceived by Independents — just 34 percent of whom want Palin to take on some role as a national political figure — and by the smart set in Washington?

Are you serious? That’s your takeaway from the long rundown of that poll?  Why bother to ask such a silly question? How about mentioning more than just the 34 percent of Independents number and look at how opinion of her hasn’t moved at all?  Just because someone feels sympathetic for a public figure doesn’t mean that’s going to fundamentally alter the way he or she votes.

It seems to me evidence of just how ridiculous political coverage by a paper like the Washington Post has become.  When its reporters decide to come up with the most unlikely, hypothetical, and contrarian questions for the sake of argument, it’s no wonder why they’ve become a sinking ship.

I suppose it’s something small, but it’s symptomatic of the other things that have gone on at the Post of late:  the firing of Dan Froomkin, the antics of Dana Millbank, the “salon” scandal that appears to have been the work of the Post’s new publisher, not to mention the hiring of Bill Kristol and other transgressions, but we really ought to not pile on because it’s likely only to get worse from here.

In his piece on Arianna Huffington’s decision to hire Froomkin as the Huffington Post’s new Washington Bureau Chief, Glenn Greenwald quotes and Huffington and makes a point that I hope reverberates in our histories of the decline of print journalism:

Huffington says that it is Froomkin’s views on the media that, for her, is his primary appeal.  The key to vibrant, successful journalism, she said, is “getting away from the notion that truth is found by splitting the difference between the two sides, that there is always truth to both sides.”  Huffington argues that establishment journalism is failing due to “the idea that good journalism is about presenting both sides without a voice — without any passion.”  The outlets that continue to adhere to that “obsolete” model “are paying a price.”  Froomkin — who has written extensively about how passion-free, “both-sides-are-equally-valid” journalism is the primary affliction of the profession — echoes that view:  “The key challenge is to present an alternative to the ‘splitting the difference’ culture that has infested traditional media.”

Amen.  Asking if Sarah Palin might be able to parlay sympathy into a successful campaign, without addressing the host of other negative factors from the same poll, isn’t even ‘splitting the difference.’ It’s deciding to be contrarian for its own sake, thinking that because Sarah Palin walks like a sitting duck and talks like a sitting duck she can’t possible be a sitting duck.  That’s what all the pundits would say!  She’s brilliant! She’s garnering sympathy! In the face of all evidence to the contrary we still have to pretend like this woman is anything other than a farce.  It’s ridiculous.

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