I think that the most underplayed news of the last week was that Kristen Soltis Anderson and Patrick Ruffini were starting their own polling and consulting firm.
I grew up in an era where the Democrats had huge legacy advantages in state and municipal politics, but the national-level Republican consultants and pollsters were far superior to their Democratic counterparts. The Buzzfeed story linked above contains the highlight reel of recent Republican polling disasters. The Republican consultant and operative class has clearly fallen behind the Democrats on the basic stuff of how people are planning to vote, but it is worse than that.
We have Republican pollsters who skew their questions to get the answers they want. You will notice that the Republican pollsters who talk about the broad public support of the current version of “comprehensive immigration reform” don’t poll the law as a combination of up-front legalization, delayed – perhaps permanently delayed – enforcement and increased low-skill immigration.
Over on twitter, Josh Barro noted that the politics of immigration reform don’t resemble the polling of immigration reform. That is because Republican (and other) pollsters are being very careful to avoid asking questions their clients do not want answered. The result of all this is that some Republican pollsters are failing to predict election outcomes while others are actively trying to make the public dumber.
At its best, polling can do much more than predict an election several days in advance or tell some politician what to pretend to believe. Polling can help politicians understand how people think, help you find the common ground and help you figure out the ways in which persuadable voters are open to persuasion. That was how Stephen Harper used polling when he became leader of the Canadian Conservative Party. That is what the current Republican political class is failing to do.
But this more intelligent use of polling is exactly what Kristen Soltis Anderson achieved in the College Republican report on the political opinions of young voters. There are no quick and easy answers in the report, but the analysis is thorough and fair-minded. Someone reading the report can walk away with some understanding of the common ground between a significant fraction of young voters and the existing conservative Republican base. The College Republican report compares very favorable to the lobbyist class-driven Republican National Committee “autopsy” that focused on the need for (you guessed it) the lobbyist class priority of “comprehensive immigration reform”.
It would be great if Republican candidates hired Anderson and Ruffini. It would be even better if Tea Party groups also hired them to learn how to expand the center-right coalition.