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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Presidents and Polls

In our chapters on public opinion (pp. 250-251) and the presidency (pp. 450-451), we discuss how presidents use polling to measure and shape public opinion. At the Huffington Post, Sam Stein adds some detail about the current administration:

In a speech at the National Urban League's 100th anniversary convention on Thursday, the president himself laughed at the "scribes and the pundits" who wonder why he pursues policies that don't poll well.

"I have to explain to them, I've got my own pollsters. But I wasn't elected just to do what's popular," Obama said. "I was elected to do what was right."

All of which may be true. But the administration, like those of the past, is far more invested and interested in the flow of public opinion than it lets on -- wary of the perception that it is operating off anything other than pure conviction. At one point during the presidential campaign, Obama was spending more money on pollsters than the notoriously poll-driven Clinton camp.

Part of the current buys has to do with the state of American politics. The Democratic Party has congressional majorities bigger than any of those Republicans enjoyed during the Bush administration. Keeping those majorities involves a duty to protect incumbents.

"We laid out an agenda in the election and we are pursuing it now," said a senior party official. "Our polling is to get the pulse of the American people, to understand where they are, what their priorities are and how they are responding to the policies we are pursuing."