Most political axioms just aren’t true

Politics is filled with truisms that aren’t true. Let’s look at some of them.

“All politics are local.” That hasn’t been the case since Speaker Tip O’Neill popularized the notion in the 1980s. A good bit of state and local politics now turn on national personalities and issues. Remember Eddie Rispone’s embrace of Donald Trump in his race for governor?

Beyond becoming nationalized, politics are also increasingly global. For example: Leaders in the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Germany, Canada and the United States have improved their job ratings in recent weeks based on the same issue, handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

“The only poll that matters is the one on Election Day.” If that’s so, why did Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Julian Castro and Cory Booker withdraw from the presidential race before one vote was cast?

“National polls were wrong in 2016.” Not exactly. Of the 13 final polls conducted the week before the election, only one had Trump ahead and 12 put Hillary Clinton on top. But, keep in mind that national polls measure popular votes, not electoral votes. Clinton did, in fact, win the popular vote by 2.1 points. The average of the 13 final national polls had her ahead by 3.1 points, which was only a point off the actual result. Ironically, the 12 polls that had Clinton ahead turned out to be closer to the actual outcome than the one poll that put Trump first.

“The candidate who spends the most money wins.” Think again. Michael Bloomberg dropped nearly a billion dollars on his presidential bid and withdrew the day after the first round of primaries. In 2016, Donald Trump’s campaign spent $531 million and won. Hillary Clinton spent $969 million and lost. In the 2018 Texas Senate race, loser Beto O’Rourke outspent winner Ted Cruz $79 million to $46 million.

“It doesn’t matter what they say about you as long as they spell your name right.” Ask candidates who lost elections after being bombarded with attack ads if they agree with this nonsense.

“Donald Trump was elected because his base turned out in record numbers.” Actually, not. Trump was elected by people who disliked him. Polls showed that only 38% of voters in 2016 liked Trump — which was not enough to carry him to victory. Trump found the extra votes he needed among the 18% of the electorate that disliked both him and Hillary Clinton. In the end, Trump beat Clinton by 17 points among these voters, none of whom were fans of his.

“Presidential nominees always carry their home states.” Nope. The last two Republican presidential nominees lost their home states: Donald Trump lost New York and Mitt Romney lost Massachusetts. On the Democratic side, both Al Gore and George McGovern failed to carry their home states; Adlai Stevenson lost his twice.

“Nobody cares about the deficit.” With passage of the $2 trillion coronavirus recovery package, expect this year’s federal budget deficit to rise like a rocket. Political strategists say it doesn’t matter; they believe voters don’t lose sleep over such technicalities. Polls, however, indicate otherwise. A Gallup survey reveals that 95% of Americans worry about the federal budget deficit, including 50% who worry a “great deal.” A Pew poll finds that 91% of Americans think the deficit is a big problem.

Political axioms are like used cars. Before you buy one, check under the hood.

Ron Faucheux

Dr. Faucheux is a nationally respected public opinion analyst with a unique background in public policy and legislative research, public communications and message strategies. He combines professional competence with pragmatic problem solving skills.