The Problematics of Public Opinion

TNR asked a bunch of political consultant types what they thought the smart play was about the immigration issue, and to me the striking thing is that there’s no agreement whatsoever. Henk Sheinkopf says “you can only lose support the more you talk about it, and that’s particularly hurtful in the four states where this election will be decided — Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.” But Stan Greenberg says “Immigration is too central, too much a part of the set of issues voters are angry about.” Whereas Norman Adler thinks the polling (done by, among others, Greenberg) showing huge levels of public concern about this is wrong says “I’ve been doing polling around New York state for some of my clients, and when we ask an open-ended question about what people are concerned about, immigration comes in well behind taxes, the economy, and health care.” Bob Shrum thinks it’s all about character “and it’s probably more important to have an image of being a consistent truth-teller than it is to line up with the majority on every single issue — particularly one like immigration, which, in the end, isn’t going to be the most important thing in determining how people vote.”

Which is just to say that when you’re looking at consultants’ role in the political system, it’s always worth recalling that these guys operate with the professional standards of witchcraft or astrology they don’t have methods that lead practitioners to converge in their judgments about even big, obvious questions like “do voters care a lot about immigration, or do they only care a little.” Basically, a determined politician will be able to go out and find a consultant — and not just any consultant, but a reasonably successful and experienced one — who tells him or her whatever it is that he or she wants to hear about just about anything. Which isn’t to say the consultants are unscrupulous (though some of them are) but merely that there’s a great diversity of opinion out there.

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