Pollsters Doug Schoen and Pat Caddell have a Washington Post op-ed urging the Democrats to abandon health care reform out of their own self-interest:
As pollsters to the past two Democratic presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, respectively, we feel compelled to challenge the myths that seem to be prevailing in the political discourse and to once again urge a change in course before it is too late. At stake is the kind of mainstream, common-sense Democratic Party that we believe is crucial to the success of the American enterprise.
Bluntly put, this is the political reality:
First, the battle for public opinion has been lost.
Schoen, of course, had made the same argument, minus the professions of abiding love for the Democratic Party, in a Tuesday Wall Street Journal op-ed co-authored with Scott Rasmussen. There, Schoen made the slightly more specific claim that health care reform has held "steady." This is clearly incorrect -- as I've noted, public opinion has clearly moved in a favorable direction for reform in recent weeks:
Now, the claim that the battle has been "lost" is more subjective, and of course the answer is unknowable -- we can't tell if the recent favorable trend will continue, level off, or reverse itself. It is odd for pollsters to make such a definitive statement about the future of public opinion. They are presenting as settled fact something about which they can only guess.
To evaluate their credibility in passing off this guess as settled fact, it's worth exploring exactly who these two Democratic pollsters are. Schoen is a former Clinton pollster who, like Dick Morris, has taken a sharp rightward turn since leaving Clinton's employ, though not quite as sharp as Morris. He's the author of a manifesto, "Declaring Independence," which calls for a centrist third party to challenge the Democrats and Republicans. Here's Schoen in mid-April 2008, well after the delegate battle had been lost, urging Hillary Clinton to attack Barack Obama as an unqualified ultraliberal whose "values are out of step with voters."
His role as a pundit now consists largely of appearing in right-wing media making conservative arguments. Here he is following Obama's election win, authoring a Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled "Democrats Should Overinterpret A Victory Mandate." Two months after Obama's inauguration, he was writing another Journal op-ed, with conservative pollster Scott Rasmussen, arguing that Americans "support a different agenda and different policies from those that the Obama administration has advanced." Here he is in January writing another Journal op-ed with Caddell attacking Obama's "unprecedented attempt to silence the media." He seems to appear regularly on Fox News offering agreeable analysis to the likes of Sean Hannity.
Caddell, meanwhile, has shifted even further to the right. Appearing on Glenn Beck's show, he declared that Obama practices "gangster politics that will make Al Capone so happy." You can watch him here with far right David Horowitz, declaring, among other exotic theories, his belief that the environmental movement is a plot to "deconstruct capitalism."
In short, Schoen and Caddell's professed Democratic self-identification, to the extent that it would be interpreted as some sympathy for the party's electoral success and broad policy goals, seems highly misleading. Their analysis of public opinion on health care likewise appears to be an outgrowth of their ideological opposition rather than a fair-minded read of the data. Especially given that Schoen made a virtually identical argument in a national newspaper just three days earlier, it's hard to figure out what this op-ed is doing in the Washington Post.