One of the more baffling aspects of “political journalism” in the United States is the mind-numbing obsession which most of the political press has with “horse race” analysis. Read any of the mainstream political magazines — The New Republic, National Review, Politico, the major newsweeklies — or view any of the cable news shows filled with the analysts who think they are the super-sophisticated insider political types and virtually all they ever do, literally, is prattle on in the most speculative and gossipy manner about which presidential candidates are winning and losing.
Aside from all the other obvious critiques made of this practice, the resulting chatter is unbelievably boring. I say it is “baffling” because it is hard to understand why someone would want to become a political journalist and then spend most of their time engaged in this sort of petty, substance-free chatter about which campaign has inched ahead and which one has fallen behind every day. It’s all transparently baseless and meaningless. Look at any of the polling data or the predominant conventional wisdom for the last several elections months before the first primary vote was cast and, in retrospect, it all ends being completely misinformed.
In September of 2003, Wesley Clark and Howard Dean led every Democratic poll, and all of the cable news and political magazine horserace chatter was a complete waste of air. For people who chose for their careers to write about political issues, don’t they have any interest at all in covering more substantive matters?
In any event, the Hillary Clinton campaign certainly recognizes that, in light of how our mainstream press covers the presidential campaign, perception of polling success is one of the critical factors in determining how a candidate is discussed — certainly far more important than the substance of what the candidate is actually advocating. That is why Clinton’s campaign is dominated by the execrable pollster Mark Penn, who manages single-handedly to embody, all in one person, everything that is sickly and wrong with our political establishment.
Penn has the perfect long-time (now former) partner in Douglas Schoen, whose purpose in life is to argue that Democrats must accommodate George Bush and his radicalism (by, among other things, embracing Joe Lieberman) — and repudiate their embarrassing and rabid base — as much as possible if they want to succeed. One of the most disturbing aspects of a Clinton presidency is that individuals such as Penn and Schoen — along with the likes of telecom lobbyist Jamie Gorelick and Iraq War cheerleader Mike O’Hanlon — are highly likely to occupy critical positions of power in a Clinton administration, just as they did in the last Clinton administration.
But Schoen’s problems go beyond mere establishment-perpetuating ideology. In light of the importance of perceptions of polling success for the Clinton campaign, Schoen — ever since he left the Penn firm — has been holding himself out as an independent polling analyst for Rasmussen Reports and other media venues, concealing his long-standing ties to the Clintons and writing one ostensibly objective analysis after the next which has no purpose other than to depict Clinton’s candidacy as an inevitability.
The front page today of Rasmussen Report touts an “analysis” entitled “Hillary’s Great Week,” by Douglas Schoen:
The “analysis” itself reads as though it was written by Hillary Clinton’s campaign itself — because, in essence, it was:
The most recent Rasmussen poll shows Hillary Clinton holding a 20 point lead nationally over Senator Barack Obama. Clinton also has an 17 point lead in the Real Clear Politics averages of the most recently released national polls.
Moreover, examination of the most recently released polls in Iowa show her position improving over the last month or so, moving to a 5% lead in the last two polls to have been released. . . .
And the events of this past week are likely to do nothing that will change this pattern.
It seems pretty clear that the only groups that could conceivably deny Clinton the nomination are anti-war groups, still angry about her vote ostensibly authorizing the President to go to war in Iraq. And by pointedly refusing to vote to condemn the MoveOn.Org ad condemning General Patreaus and supporting a timetable for withdrawal, she artfully protected her left flank. . . .
Her delicate balancing act–executed deftly–stands in contrast to Senator Obama who chose not to vote at all on the resolution condemning MoveOn and Senator Edwards who could only complain that Senator Clinton had effectively lifted the core principles from his own health care proposal.
Nothing in Schoen’s listed biography indicates he is in any way tied to the Clintons: “Douglas Schoen is a founding and former partner of Penn Schoen & Berland, and a Fox News Contributor.” By design, anyone unaware of the role played in the Clinton campaign by the Penn, Schoen firm would read this and believe they are reading the analysis of an independent expert.
The other columns Schoen has written for Rasmussen regarding Democratic polling data are equally propagandistic in favor of Clinton. On September 19, he gushed:
The most recent Rasmussen numbers on the race for the Democratic Presidential Nomination provide compelling evidence that Senator Hillary Clinton is in an extremely strong position to win for reasons that go well beyond the horse race numbers. . . .
[I]t is in the details of the Rasmussen polling that we can see how strong her position really is. . . . .
She is also seen as the most electable candidate among Democrats. This rebuts one of the top reasons cited by her detractors for her presumed difficulty in winning the election.
On September 9, he “analyzed” why conventional wisdom about Hillary is wrong and “that she may well be a more formidable candidate than many commentators and pundits believe.” Conflicting data — such as the very close race in Iowa, the historical unreliability of September polling data, the huge though artificial advantage candidates with name recognition enjoy early on — is never mentioned by the propagandizing Schoen. His goal, like so much of the political establishment, is to crown Clinton the inevitable nominee.
The issue here is Schoen’s masquerading as some sort of objective polling analyst while concealing his long-standing ties to the Clintons. In an email exchange about this issue, I asked Scott Rasmussen why Schoen is held out as objective, and why they would use someone with clear ties to one candidate as their polling analyst, and Rasmussen said: “We expect to add other commentators over the coming months and will be adding a bio page for each. We should have put Doug’s up before posting his commentaries and will move that up on the priority list.” But there is a biography listed for Schoen, and it depicts him as an independent analyst, not a Clinton partisan.
Schoen is no longer a partner in Penn’s firm and is thus frequently held out as though he is some sort of independent observer and polling expert. Clearly, though, his mission is to boost Hillary Clinton’s presidency and depict it as inevitable, long before the first vote is counted. He is anything but objective, and basic integrity in how he is held out — by Rasmussen and media outlets — ought to disclose his long ties to the Clintons.
UPDATE: Rasmussen has added the following to Schoen’s biography line: “Schoen was President Bill Clinton’s research and strategic consultant during the 1996 reelection campaign.” That’s an improvement, but in an e-mail to me, Rasmussen wrote this (ellipses in original):
We will have several commentators with ties to various candidates . . . all will be disclosed and all will offer their perspective . . . I will probably be the only pollster without ties to anyone. . .
Rasmussen himself clearly perceives Schoen as a pollster attached to the Hillary Clinton campiagn and anything Schoen writes in the way of polling analysis or anything else ought to include that fact prominently.