Value of polls lies in their use

James Maxson, Minot

Polls are somewhat similar to a carpenter’s tool. They are as valuable as the skills of the artisan utilizing them. I recall a very pleasant one on one dinner in 1995 with the head of a “special interest” group based out of Washington, D.C. My dinner companion was a self-made man, who due to talent, hard work and the luck of having been born in the USA, had lifted himself up from rural poverty to someone who could afford to live in Aspen, Colorado.

His organization had done a number of polls to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of various Republican presidential candidates against President Bill Clinton, who would be up for reelection in 1996. Clinton had some personal scandals which were well documented. He arguably had only won in 1992 because of a third party candidate hurting the first President Bush. The polling results showed that if Colin Powell ran against Clinton he would blow Clinton out of the water.

With Powell as candidate, several things appeared to be likely. First, a substantial number of Black Americans would have switched parties to vote for Powell. Secondly, a substantial number of independent voters would have preferred Powell. Thirdly, there were a number of traditional Democrats who were less than enthused about Clinton’s history with women.

Powell obviously did not run for President. According to my dinner companion, the polls showed that likely Republican primary voters at that time had two problems with Powell – his position on abortion and his race. Additionally, his sources advised him that Powell’s wife was worried that if her husband ran for President, he would be assassinated. The same polls showed Clinton beating Bob Dole. That is exactly what happened in 1996.

Today, polls show Nikki Haley beating President Biden by a substantial percentage. They also show Biden and Trump in what again would be a close race within the margin of error. That said, a Powell election in 1996 would have had remarkable impact on our nation’s history, one that most of our Republican friends would have likely preferred. No predictions are being made here, just some food for thought.


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