Public Nuisance

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The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Tuesday, November 11, 2003
Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

Toe fetishist turned GOP hack Dick Morris gave the funeral rites for the Clark campaign in today's column. A closer look at the very numbers he cites shows that the only thing to mourn is Morris's own long-deceased integrity.
The latest Marist Poll taken at the end of October shows the former general fading from a tie for first place to fifth in the Democratic primary field, dropping to 8 percent of the Democratic vote nationwide, well behind Howard Dean who led at 16 percent of the likely Democratic primary voters.

That is what the poll shows, although even in this poll Clark is 2 points away from tying for third and 4 away from second, both well within the poll's 5.5% margin of error. Even Dean's lead over Clark is within the poll's MOE. Moreover, of the 4 candidates in front of him, all but Dean are dropping in support.

But why did Morris choose this poll to represent Clark's fade into the pack? Precisely because it was the only poll that did. Here are the numbers for Clark support in all polls of the past 3 weeks listed at the main site for poll followers. The numbers list Clark's support in percentage followed by his placement: 15 (2), 17 (1), 14 (2), 8 (5), 10 (2), 12 (2), 13 (1), 15 (2). In the most recent polls taken by 5 major organizations other than Marist, Clark is in a tie with Dean well ahead of the field (Newsweek), in a tie for second (Zogby), tied for second (ABC), in first (Quinnipac), tied for first (Gallup). (In the Newsweek and Gallup polls, Dean is 1 point ahead, but that amounts to a statistical tie.) The one poll which Morris has chosen to lead with is the exception, a single poll which shows Clark, both absolutely and relative to his opponents, as substantially weaker than any other.

Other recent polls confirm the same trend. The ABC/Washington Post poll last week shows Clark fading to fourth place and the Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll records a drop in his favorable/unfavor- able ratio from 24-11 at the end of September to 25-19 at the end of October.

Morris flatly misrepresented the ABC poll, which has Dean (17) first and a tie for second through fourth of Clark (14), Gephardt (14), and Lieberman (13). The Fox poll does show Clark's negatives increasing, but that is unsurprising and probably irrelevant, since it polls all voters and the number is still relatively low. With heavy attacks on Clark from conservative media, it is likely that the increased negatives come largely or entirely from conservatives who don't vote in Democratic primaries or for Democratic nominees.

Since Clark is not running in Iowa (Jan. 19) and likely not in New Hampshire (Jan. 27) either, he had to keep his national standing intact to have any hope of entering the process on Feb. 3, when five states (Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, Oklahoma and South Carolina) have their primaries.

Clark's national standing is very much intact, as is his position in the states which vote February 3. Clark is running first in South Carolina, the most contested of those primaries, in the most recent poll. (Edwards is currently second in SC, Dean is back in the pack.) He is polling a strong second in Arizona, and likely to do well in Oklahoma, where no polls that I am aware of have been taken. He didn't do well in the one Delaware poll that has been published, but his chances there are probably good. Morris mentions none of this.

Morris also refers to Clark's "fading popularity", a claim that has circulated widely of late. But is Clark actually fading?

It's clear that Clark's numbers did drop from late September to mid October, when the campaign was struggling. Newsweek, Gallup, and Zogby all showed drops in this period. But the evidence suggests that the decline has probably stopped. Only Gallup, which last polled in late October, showed Clark falling in its most recent sample. Newsweek shows a modest increase, while Zogby shows no change. ABC, which also has yet to release a November poll. showed Clark holding steady from mid to late October. So, while it will require more data to be certain, the likelihood is that Clark's drop in the polls has halted and may well be reversing.

In September and October, the ultimate media candidate - Clark - competed for national attention with the leading grass-roots (cyber roots) candidate - Dean....But media coverage was all that Clark had,while Dean had amassed a solid base of 500,000 online supporters and 285,000 campaign donors... Clark had the Clintons.

Morris recites another standard spin line that the Clark campaign is a creation of the media/Clintons/party insiders. In fact, Clark has more grass roots and net support than any candidate other than Dean. Clark's money totals for the third quarter were competitive with those of other candidates than Dean, although Clark had only two weeks instead of a full quarter to raise money. (Clark beat all candidates, including Dean, in money raised per day.) And Clark, more than those other competitors, was raising his money in small contributions. Clark's Meetup numbers trail well behind Dean's, but easily top those of the other 7 candidates combined. And he probably beats Dean in support from webloggers.

Overall, Dean is currently leading Clark by a small margin - see the meta-analysis on the new Clark Community blog. But Clark and Dean combined pull only about 30% of the vote; how the undecideds and the supporters of other candidates break will determine the outcome. Clark's broader political base means that he is likely to top Dean in these groups, so his chances of victory remain significant.
Update: A new poll from NBC puts Clark in first at 17, Dean trailing closely at 15. This is further confirmation that Clark's slump in the polls is over. It's an increase of 1% from the last NBC poll, but what's more significant is that the prior poll was taken in late September. This was the period when Clark's numbers were highest, actually topping 20% in some polls. So it isn't a tick up from the trough, but from the previous crest.