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Parsing the Polls: Can Tom DeLay Win Again?

After The Fix made a brief mention earlier this week of the new Houston Chronicle poll showing Rep. Tom DeLay (R) trailing in his reelection bid, it seemed fitting to take at deeper look into the numbers and what they mean for DeLay's chances in this week's edition of "Parsing the Polls."

In order to get a fuller perspective on the results, I spoke to the two men who conducted the poll: Robert Stein, a professor at Rice University, and Richard Murray, the chairman of the University of Houston Center for Public Policy. I also talked to the DeLay camp to get their perspective on the survey.  More on that below, but here's a taste: DeLay spokeswoman Shannon Flaherty said that the results reflect the "dwindling credibility of the Chronicle and its pollsters."

On its face, the survey spells bad news for DeLay. In a hypothetical general-election matchup he trails former Rep. Nick Lampson (D) 30 percent to 22 percent. Former Republican Rep. Steve Stockman, who is running as an Independent this year, took 11 percent.

Both Stein and Murray said a seeming erosion in DeLay's support is the biggest surprise to them in the survey. More than half (51 percent) of all voters who said they supported DeLay in 2004 said they would not do so again in 2006. Among this group, the largest bloc -- 33 percent -- said they either would vote for none of the current crop of candidates, were undecided or refused to answer. Eleven percent said they would switch their allegiance to Stockman, while eight percent said they were planning to vote for Lampson.

Stein and Murray dub this group "DeLay Defectors," and in cross tabs of the poll provided to The Fix the two men tried to get a sense for who those voters were.

The profile? A Republican woman who identifies herself as politically moderate-to-conservative and has not closely followed the recent spate of news stories about DeLay.

Fifty-four percent of the "DeLay Defectors" were women. Thirty percent identified themselves as either "liberal" or "moderate" in their politics, while 63 percent said they were "conservatives." Two-thirds of the defectors called themselves Republicans compared to 27 percent who identified themselves either as independents (15 percent) or Democrats (12 percent).

Asked about how closely they followed the indictment of DeLay by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, only 15 percent of the defectors said they have watched it "very closely" compared to 45 percent of the so-called DeLay loyalists who were watching the story with that same level of scrutiny. One-quarter of DeLay defectors have kept a very close eye on his resignation as House majority leader, compared to 42.5 percent of his staunch backers. On the stories surrounding fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff, 14 percent of the defectors said they have been very closely monitoring the coverage -- half the percentage of DeLay allies that said the same.

"He was running rather poorly with Republicans and it wasn't because of the [news] coverage," concluded Stein. "People who were most attentive to these three stories were his biggest supporters."

Murray concluded that the best -- and perhaps only -- way for DeLay to win reelection is for the "real world situation" to change --  meaning that the Texas Republican would need to be entirely cleared in the Texas indictment and also exonerated in the Abramoff investigation. "The best he can hope for is some more bad news [stories] but no indictments," said Murray.

Not surprisingly, the DeLay camp takes issue with the results. Flaherty said DeLay's internal polling shows a vastly different political landscape than the Chronicle survey -- though she refused to discuss those results publicly for fear of revealing the campaign's strategy. 

Flaherty also disputed the poll's methodology. Asked for an example, she cited the fact that on the Republican primary ballot question the pollsters included the 31 percent of people who said they were planning to vote in the Democratic primary. While Texas does hold an open primary -- meaning Republicans, Democrats and independents can choose to vote in either party's primary -- no person can vote in both primaries, explained Flaherty. "That's why these professors are out running media polls and not winning races," she said.

For further reading, here is the Chronicle's write-up of the poll and another Chronicle article analyzing the findings.

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 18, 2006; 8:20 AM ET
Categories:  House , Parsing the Polls  
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Our constitutional framers did not establish our country on the premise of government for and by lobbyists. When the culture of our representative government becomes so perverted by lobbyists who "pay to play", we have lost the values of a free and democratic republic.

We should be rallying in the streets, demanding elimination of all financial incentives lobbyists use to access politicians. When lobbyists have contributed to politician's PACs, such as Delay's Texans a for Republican Majority, they change to political landscape, not to promote the will of the people, but rather to game the system. Lobbyists shouldn't control the leadership positions in either party or act as political consultants for re-election committees as they currently do.

It's not enough to outlaw lobbyists' providing trips for our representatives or reporting every dollar they spend courting our lawmakers. They shouldn't write the laws which regulate their industries and then micro manage the voting on the floor of the House and Senate. They shouldn't produce government programs which give them windfall profits like the recently enacted Medicare Pharmaceutical bill which does little to help beleaguered elders but rather piles onto the ever increasing national debt and causes the social entitlement programs to become an even larger burden to our younger tax paying Americans.

False issues, Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, who cares? But if grandma is poor, needs medication and has to choose between heating, eating or buying her next round of heart pills, that does matter. It's really up to us.

Posted by: Annie Incognito | January 20, 2006 10:00 AM | Report abuse

The way many voters play the primaries here in TX is to vote in whatever primary AGAINST the most despised candidate, provided there is a reasonable alternative in that primary. Long history of this.

By Stockman choosing to run as an independent, the fun gets put off until the general election - provided he get enough signatures of registered voters (that skipped BOTH primaries) to be on the ballot - and perhaps leaves Tom an opening by spltting the opposition vote. Tom's loyalists WILL hold their nose and vote for him until he is convicted.

In this way, Stockman may prove a GOP tool.

Posted by: Jackal | January 18, 2006 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Says Flaherty "That's why these professors are out running media polls and *not winning races*,"

I'd say those professors should take notice. Miss Flaherty might know a little something about not winning a race.

Posted by: Will | January 18, 2006 3:21 PM | Report abuse

I can only think of what Lord Acton, a British historian of the late nineteenth said, "Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end...liberty is the only object which benefits all alike, and provokes no sincere opposition...The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to to govern. Every class is unfit to govern...Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." There is enough corruption on both sides of the isles to keep reporters busy for a long time. Delay is only the most current example of power gone amuk.

Posted by: Lynn L. in Atlanta | January 18, 2006 3:03 PM | Report abuse

I wasn't trying to defend or accuse anyone. My point was that people are going to work very hard to make sure that Delay is voted out and I don't see anyone really going to bat for him. I think it just increases his chances of sitting at home (or in the Big House) in December.

Posted by: Andy R | January 18, 2006 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Surely there are sufficient voters in Delay's district that want honest representation. If not, then those people who continue to vote for this deeply stained man will get exactly what they deserve: denigration by the American public; more examples of back alley behavior for their children; futures laden with political chicanery; division and rancor; refusal of honest Americans to do business with Texans; suspicion of motivation. We are very, very tired of the steady drip, drip, drip of the acid coming from this House of Representatives as led by Dennis Hastert and his Fascist SA thug, Tom Delay. It is not in the American way. Ethics do matter, both short term and long term.

Posted by: Claude M. | January 18, 2006 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Could you re-parse the poll to see what it says about research in Sydney, Australia, in the 1980s which indicated this:

Four per cent of voters feel so strongly about corruption that, when it is firmly on the agenda, they will change their vote from their party to another SOLELY on their perception of their party's attitude to corruption. Movement of four per cent is a landslide swing of eight per cent.
If they find the new party is no better on corruption, they return to their spiritual home.

Posted by: Evan Whitton | January 18, 2006 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Let us hope we have heard the end of Mr. Delay. He is not the type I would want to see representing the population of his state. This is not a first, just the first time he left his mark. Hope it sticks.

Posted by: Don mottl | January 18, 2006 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Great column, Chris!

Tom Delay is going to JAIL. Hurrraaaaayyyy!
Those who sell our Nation to the highest bidder are UN-AMERICAN.

Its even better that he will lose election first so the MSM can feel safe to discuss his crimes...otherwise they would practice their usual misplaced "defference".

Posted by: STRAIGHT TO JAIL | January 18, 2006 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Andy: just as "taking Delay out is priority one for ...Democratic PACS" taking Daschle out in SD was priority one for a range of Republican PACS. I'm sure that whatever gets spent in Texas to influence that outcome will be miniscule compared to what was spent in SD. Daschle wasn't a criminal; DeLay obviously is. Which PAC spending is more defensible?

Posted by: lpdrjk | January 18, 2006 12:24 PM | Report abuse

With powerful and vicious crrooks like Tom Delay and cohorts running our government and openly seeking to undermine what both parties have accomplished in the last 230 years, we don't need to be fighting just foreign terrorists. If the NSA would just publish their transacipts of Delay's conversations we would see that he is an enemy of the American way of life, despite whatever he says about being a believer in Christianity, democracy, etc. He represents the certainenemy within, and most people now get it.

Posted by: greenone | January 18, 2006 12:22 PM | Report abuse

My husband is in the aerospace industry here in Texas - an industry that has done well by Mr. Delay. I think it speaks volumes when those of us who can benefit economically by having DeLay in power STILL hope he goes down in flames. We do not need or want dishonest people representing those of us trying to live our lives with integrity and honor.

Posted by: Candace in Deer Park | January 18, 2006 11:46 AM | Report abuse

While it was clearly a mistake to not screen for primary voters before asking the primary question, that in no way effects any other findings in the poll.

Posted by: Jack in Houston | January 18, 2006 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Andy, you sound like a nice person...
Not only are Republicans having second thoughts about Delay:

"So far, the lukewarm support for DeLay among likely primary voters is not benefiting his Republican opponents, who together poll less than 10 percent with the rest undecided."

Posted by: Dee Lilley | January 18, 2006 10:38 AM | Report abuse

DeLay's Internal Polling:

1. Every sycophant on the payroll (includes family and household pets)

2. "King" George "Tom is Innocent" Bush



Yup, that's a VASTLY different landscape.

"DeLay...starts with the disadvantage of a 60 percent unfavorable rating in the district he has represented for 20 years. Only 28 percent view him favorably, according to the poll."

Not to mention his legal issues...

Posted by: Dee Lilley | January 18, 2006 10:30 AM | Report abuse

What I was wondering is what type of effect this will have on Delay's ability to raise money and get help from the Congressional Campaign folks. We all know that taking Delay out is priority one for groups like Democracy for America, and other Democratic PACS. They are going to DUMP massive amounts of money in Texas to take him down. More polls like this and I really don't see anyone coming to his rescue.
Also doesn't it seem the other Republicans getting tired of him or is it just me?

Posted by: Andy R | January 18, 2006 10:03 AM | Report abuse

I concur with Robert. It seems to the GOP, academia is a slur.

I was impressed when Jon Stewart (Daily Show) was able to reverse that argument against L. Paul Bremer last night. Bremer went toward a predictable argument saying the insolated professors criticizing the administration weren't on the ground, he was. Stewart retorted that the war was begun by an insolated group of academics (the think tanks, Rumsfeld, et. al). Bremer really couldn't argue the point.

As to Delay's spokeswoman, her retort still doesn't nullify the general election results. Focusing on the primary was a transparent dodge.

Posted by: ElSid | January 18, 2006 9:12 AM | Report abuse

The comment by the DeLay campaign spokeswoman is telling. She says: "That is why these professors are out running media polls and not winning elections>" She, as most Bushite Republicans, is utterly unable to imagine anything being non-partisan (or scientific). Everyone is or wants to be like her and her ilk. There is no professionalism, no science, only politics and partisanship. These professors are running polls because that is part of their job. They are not campaigning for or against anyone. The are, indeed, facts in this reality-based world even if the extremist Republicans cannot and will not see them.

Those facts include things like: you do not win people over to your side by bombing them and carbon dioxide in the air will eventually render the planet somewhere near to uninhabitable. Reality, and science, do count even if Republicans are unable to imagine that they do.

Posted by: Robert Paehlke | January 18, 2006 8:56 AM | Report abuse

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