Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Everyone lies

TV's Dr. Gregory House has several rules for diagnosis. Number one is that "everyone lies." Number two is "I don't ask why patients lie, I just assume they all do."
Maybe political pollsters need to adopt a similar approach. In a recent Rasmussen poll, nearly half of respondents said it was very or somewhat important to elect a president with military experience. In the last four presidential elections, voters have chosen candidates with no meaningful military experience, even though in each case the major party opponent did have that experience. Voters chose draft-dodger Bill Clinton over World War II veterans George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole, then chose George W. Bush, who didn't even show up for his National Guard duty, over Vietnam veterans Al Gore (passed up the National Guard to serve as an Army reporter in Vietnam) and John Kerry (Bronze Star, Silver Star, and three Purple Hearts). Kerry''s service was actually mocked by Republican opponents, who took to wearing adhesive bandages with small purple hearts on them. Of current presidential candidates, only Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter and Republican Sen. John McCain have significant military experience, both in Vietnam, but neither are performing particularly well in polls, and it is likely that our next president will have little or no military experience.
I see three possible explanations. One is that voters really do want this in a president, the tracking polls are wrong, and McCain and/or Hunter will garner many more votes than current polling suggests. The second possibility is that, while voters do want this in a president, there are other experiences and qualities that they place a greater value on. The third possibility is that this poll is simply wrong, and voters don't really care about a presidential candidate's military background or lack thereof. Any of these possibilities suggest problems with the poll, which should lead us to also question the accuracy of tracking polls.

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