Monday, January 14, 2008

John Edwards—
the more voters know, the more voters like

Edwards only candidate whose favorability improves; one-quarter still haven’t heard enough – NYT/CBS poll says

The latest New York Times/CBS News nationwide poll on the presidential races, national issues, and Bush’s favorability was released today, and while the Times’ main article about the poll trumpets some rather predictable narratives, there are many—many—other stories buried in the numbers that were apparently not deemed interesting enough for “casual” readers (and by “casual,” I mean, here, people that only read the paper and don’t download the pdf of the whole poll—in other words, pretty much everyone).

While the headline flags the increased perception of Barack Obama’s electability and John “Asshole” McCain’s surge in popularity amongst Republicans, and the article also discusses Hillary Clinton’s perceived chances, and whether America will vote for a woman or an African American come November, so much more of interest can be found in the raw numbers. For instance, George Bush’s approval rating remains at 30% or below for the ninth straight month (currently it’s at 29%), and 75% now believe the country is on the wrong track.

Also interesting/disturbing to me is how the article continues to undergird the new conventional wisdom that the economy is now more important to Americans than the situation in Iraq—a storyline that isn’t actually borne out by the numbers. The survey also shows that even though the Beltway noise machine has decided that the “Surge” has somehow worked (don’t ask them about exactly how, it’s an unsightly mess), the American people still want our involvement in Iraq to end—and soon.

I’ll likely write more about the Iraq section of the poll in a separate post, but for today, let me focus on another unreported and under-analyzed part—that would be the surging likeability of John Edwards.

While the Times story tells of a relative stability in the national race for the Democratic nomination (with Clinton still in the lead, followed by Obama, and then Edwards), it misses some very interesting movement in the favorability numbers of the three leading candidates. Or, rather, the movement in the numbers for one candidate in particular.
Yes, the two sitting senators’ “favorable” numbers continue to come in higher than those of John Edwards, but notice that while Clinton’s favorability has slipped by a hair since the previous poll, and Obama’s numbers are static, the favorability of John Edwards has shot up 9%.

Further, the increase in favorability comes almost entirely from the undecided column. Couple this with the rather remarkable finding that, after over a year of this presidential election cycle, a whopping quarter of voters still haven’t heard enough about Edwards (compared with 8% who say they haven’t heard enough about Obama and a scant 2% that say the same about Clinton), and it appears quite clear that the more people know about John Edwards, the more they like him.

This, of course, is a good news/bad news conclusion. An Edwards supporter should be overjoyed to see that familiarity breeds affinity. Indeed, any campaign would love to know that exposure to their candidate has an almost universal upside. But, given the near universal cold-shoulder given to Edwards by the establishment media, how are those 16% undecided and 25% who haven’t heard enough to find out more about the South Carolina-born progressive Democrat?

Add to this the problems faced by a contender who refuses PAC money when he is forced to compete with two “celebrity” candidates that have each sucked in more than $100 million, and the question is underscored.

It can be taken as dispiriting or as a challenge. If all of America had a chance to hear from and about John Edwards, he might be viewed as the most favorable of all the Democrats in the field—but if Edwards cannot garner equal coverage, or fists full of cash, it is quite possible that the candidate, the party, and the country will all be shortchanged.

Let’s take it as a challenge. Help voters learn more about John Edwards. Tell your family and friends. Blog everywhere (cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos). Donate here.

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