Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Real Story Behind That DeLay Poll

We’ve been faintly amused by the controversy pinging around the local neck of Bloggersville (as Banjo Jones calls it) over the Houston Chronicle’s recent poll showing Tom DeLay limping a bit as he readies to face the voters this year (overhwelmingly comprehensive linkage at blogHouston).

We have nothing of substance to add to the issue, primarily because our interest in these matters (polls and polling methodology, etc.) long ago diminished past the point of nullity. However, we’re confident in dismissing, without hesitation or equivocation, the notion that UH’s Dick Murray would be party to a cooking of numbers to show DeLay in a bad light. (And yeah, the paper should have noted, and high up in its story on the poll, that Murray’s son worked for Nick Lampson, DeLay’s probable Democratic opponent. The omission of something so obviously begging for disclosure not only provided an easy point of attack for critics but points up what we and others have discerned to be a general lack of quality control at the daily newspaper).

Having worked with Murray a bit in the distant past, we found him to be a person of high professional integrity (that is, forthright, cautious and even self-deprecating in his explanations of sample sizes, weighting, developments affecting responses, etc.) It’s laughable to think he’d spoil his reputation as a technician on some cheesy partisan ploy. (We never had much truck with Bob “You-Need-A-Quote” Stein, so we’ll reserve comment on his involvement with the poll in question.)

Of course, we’ve also heard Murray once (maybe twice) declare that “polls are bullshit,” although we were past the legal limit for being shit-faced at the time and can’t recall exactly why he maintained so.

Whatever the margin of error on sub-samples, it defies logic to maintain that DeLay hasn’t been hurt at least an itsy bitsy bit in his district by the cascade of bad news that’s fallen on him of late. His 60 percent unfavorable rating in the Chronicle poll would seem to be a fairly unambiguous reading of that development. At the same time, common sense (that is, a recognition of the demographic realities of the district and DeLay’s established presence and relentless spadework there) suggests that the smilin' shakedown artist from Sugar Land will win his GOP primary handily and probably be re-elected in November (barring further legal developments).

As for the Chronicle’s bias against DeLay … yes, it does seem that the newspaper (along with a good portion of the rest of the Western Hemisphere) has finally turned on the congressman. It wasn’t too many years ago, however, that the paper’s editorial page was generally supportive of DeLay and endorsed him for re-election, and before the end of the last century its news pages were about the last place you’d look to find anything truly negative on the old boy, unless it was a story wired from the Washington Post or elsewhere.

We’re not sure what benefit the paper would derive from rigging a poll against DeLay. In a strict news-value sense, a survey showing “Despite Troubles, DeLay Still Stronger Than Spicy Fresh Mexican Horseradish” would have had more impact than one reinforcing the obvious. But given the paper’s past support of DeLay, it crossed our mind---no, actually, we believe this wholeheartedly---that the entire poll was cooked up by DeLay and the Chronicle to boost his fund-raising, with Murray and Stein abetting.

It makes sense: the poll doesn’t come close to suggesting that DeLay’s a hopeless loser, so it’s not gonna make money fly from him, but it does indicate that he’s gonna have to get out and hump it to keep his nipped-and-tucked visage at the public trough---and for that he’ll need more money. And more. “Dear donor, A recent poll has shown that the merciless pummeling of Ted Kennedy and Michael Moore has left Tom DeLay fighting for his political life. Tom needs your help like never before …"

That’s it: the Chronicle and Tom DeLay, in the sack, again.

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