12/21: “Whatever” Most Annoying Word or Phrase, Except Among Young Americans

It’s the most annoying (word) time of the year!  Once again, “whatever” claims the title of most annoying word or phrase used in casual conversation.

“Whatever” irritates 38% of Americans followed by “no offense, but” with 20%.  “You know, rightis irksome to 14% of residents nationally as is “I can’t even,” 14%.  “Huge” grates on the nerves of 8% of Americans, and 5% are unsure.

However, “whatever may be losing some steam.  In 2015, 43% of residents cited “whateverto be the most annoying.  “No offense, but” followed with 22%, and “like” came in third with 20%.  Seven percent thought “no worries” was irritating, and “huge” received 3%.  Four percent were unsure.

Age matters.  Nearly half of Americans 45 years of age or older, 49%, believe “whatever” to be the most annoying, but among younger Americans, there is little agreement.  27% mention “whatever” followed by “no offense, but” and “I can’t even” each with 24%.  Digging deeper, “whatever” tops the list for those 30 to 44 years old, 33%, Americans 45 to 59 years of age, 48%, and those 60 and older, 49%.  Among Americans under 30, “I can’t even” takes top honors with 33%.

Regardless of race, “whatever” receives the dubious distinction of most annoying word or phrase.  However, African Americans, 57%, and Latinos, 42%, are more likely to have this view than whites, 35%.

Complete December 21, 2016 Marist Poll Release of the United States

Complete December 21, 2016 Marist Poll Tables of the United States

Marist Poll Methodology

Nature of the Sample

7/18: Beyond the Bounce

July 18, 2016 by  
Filed under Featured, Lee Miringoff

The GOP and Democratic political conventions are finally upon us.  They will be scored by the media for tone and how well each side makes its case to Americans.  No sooner will the gavel end these proceedings for campaign 2016, then those of us in the public opinion community will try to measure how the public reacted. But, beware the post-convention bounce.  If history is any guide, there is no guarantee that there will be a significant change in the presidential contest as a result of the conventions, or that it will be long-lasting.

Relying upon public opinion polls to draw accurate conclusions about the relative success of each convention can be tricky. There is no one, proven formula to anticipate what is a “good,” post-convention bounce, and subsequently, what “good” or “bad” means for the future of each campaign.

In fact, there are many factors which give meaning to post-convention polls.  First, both Trump and Clinton are well-known to the public even if neither one is particularly well-liked.  The spectacles in Cleveland and Philadelphia are likely to have important and lasting moments, but the public is not likely to learn much new about either presidential candidate.

Second, history tells us that the underdog is more likely to receive a significant post-convention lift, but it is, more times than not, short-lived.  Barry Goldwater and Walter Mondale are two examples that come to mind.  But, with candidates at the top of each 2016 ticket that are already household names, in a campaign that has had its unprecedented share of surprises, who exactly is the underdog?

Third, the most recent and impactful convention was 1992.  Bill Clinton rose to the occasion.  But, there were other factors at work including the unexpected withdrawal of Ross Perot as the convention came to a close.

Fourth, like the last two quadrennial gatherings, these conventions are back-to-back.  For political junkies, this may give the appearance of one two-week political fix and reduce the potential for a significant change in the contest.

This is not to say that the conventions will be irrelevant.  Unforced errors, in what are increasingly well-scripted events, can still occur.  Clint Eastwood’s chair comes to mind.  Also, according to the latest McClatchy-Marist Poll, both Trump and Clinton have plenty of work to do.  Trump needs to secure supporters of the other 16 candidates during the primaries.  Right now, Trump has the support of only 60% of voters who said they backed someone else in a GOP primary.  Clinton still needs to convince Sanders’ backers that she is the right choice.  Clinton only attracts 57% of those who “felt the Bern” during the nomination fight.

Of course, the reaction of the national electorate to the conventions obscures how voters in each state (and therefore, the Electoral College totals) view the four nights of the political hoopla in Cleveland and Philadelphia.  The NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist Poll conducted pre-convention surveys in seven key battleground states.  They show very competitive races in the Midwest states of Iowa and Ohio and a Clinton advantage in Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.  Pre-convention, Trump and Clinton both have negatives that outpace their positives.

What should you look for post-convention?  Have there been any changes in Americans’ impressions of the candidates?  Has the political dialogue changed, and which candidate’s agenda is ruling the day?  Does their respective selection for Vice President suggest leadership, consensus, or pandering?  Does it reflect an appeal to their base supporters or an opportunity to reach out to undecided voters?  Do the candidates score differently as tickets post-convention than they did pre-convention when matched one on one?  The plan is to revisit these states after the shows move on to see whether voters have changed.

Whatever the result of the conventions, one thing we do know for sure.  Most Americans believe this is an election that will truly make a difference depending upon who wins or loses.  73% of Americans express this opinion today compared with only 60% who shared this view just four years ago.

So, will there be a bounce? Will it be long-lasting? Or, just a blip.  Stay tuned.

 

12/21: “Whatever” Most Annoying Word for Seventh Year

December 21, 2015 by  
Filed under Featured, Living, Odds and Ends, Odds and Ends Polls

Whatever! 

For the seventh consecutive year, “whatever” tops the list as the word or phrase Americans, 43%, consider to be the most annoying.  “No offense, but” is a distant second with 22% followed closely by “like” with 20%.  Seven percent are irked by “no worries” while 3% consider “huge” to be most irritating.

Complete December 21, 2015 Marist Poll of the United States

In last year’s survey, the same proportion, 43%, called “whatever” the most annoying word followed by “like” with 23%.  “Literally” received 13% while 10% mentioned “awesome.”  Eight percent chose “with all due respect” as the most irritating word or phrase in 2014.

Regardless of age, race, gender, region of residence, income, or level of education, “whatever” is thought to be the most bothersome word in casual conversation today.  Of note, Americans in the South, 48%, and Midwest, 46%, are more likely than those in the Northeast, 38%, and in the West, 36%, to dislike the word, “whatever.”  African Americans, 54%, are more likely to be annoyed by “whatever, than whites, 41%, or Latinos, 42%.

Marist Poll Methodology

Nature of the Sample and Complete Tables

12/19: “Whatever,” AGAIN!

December 19, 2014 by  
Filed under Featured, Living, Odds and Ends, Odds and Ends Polls

For the sixth consecutive year, “whatever” tops the list as the most annoying word or phrase used in casual conversation.  Americans’ irritability about the term crosses most demographic groups.  However, in the Northeast, “like” and “whatever” are almost equally irksome.  Americans younger than 30 are the least likely to be perturbed by hearing “whatever.”

Which word or phrase is thought to be the most overused in 2014?  “Selfie” earns that dubious distinction.  While there is a consensus among most groups, a plurality of residents under 30 consider “hashtag” to be the word or phrase used too often during the last year.

Complete December 19, 2014 Marist Poll of the United States 

Poll points:

  • A plurality of Americans, 43%, thinks “whatever” is the most annoying word or phrase used in casual conversation.  “Like” is the most irritating for 23% of the population while “literally” gets on the nerves of 13%.  One in ten residents, 10%, reports “awesome” grates on them while 8% would prefer not to hear “with all due respect.”  Last year, “whatever,” 38%, defeated “like” which received 22%, “you know” which had 18%, “just sayin’” which garnered 14%, and “obviously” which was cited by 6%.
  • Regional differences exist.  Residents in the South, 50%, Midwest, 49%, and West, 34%, perceive “whatever” to be the most bothersome in casual conversation.  In the Northeast, “like,” 34%, and “whatever,” 33% are considered almost equally as irritating.
  • Americans under 30 years old, 36%, are less likely than older Americans, 46%, to consider “whatever” to be the most annoying.
  • “Selfie” is considered the most overused word or phrase by 35% of residents nationally.  27% say “hashtag” is the most worn out word.  “Twerk” receives 16% while “YOLO” garners 8%.  Five percent cite “twittersphere” as excessively used while 1% reports “hipster” was used too often.
  • While a plurality of Americans 30 and older, 38%, say “selfie” is the most overused word of 2014, 32% of younger residents think “hashtag” was used too much.

Marist Poll Methodology

Nature of the Sample and Complete Tables

5/5: Player’s Sexual Orientation Will Not Impact NFL Draft, Say Nearly Two-Thirds

May 5, 2014 by  
Filed under Featured, Football, Sports, Sports Bench

Michael Sam, the University of Missouri defensive lineman who publicly announced he is gay, will participate in this year’s NFL Draft.  What impact, if any, will Sam’s sexual orientation have on his NFL prospects?  Close to two-thirds of football fans nationally — 65% — do not think it will make any difference where he is selected in the draft.  One in four — 25% — thinks NFL teams will be less likely to pick him while 6% say it will make teams more likely to select Sam.  Three percent are unsure.

Click Here for Complete May 5, 2014 USA Marist Poll Release and Tables

This Marist Poll has been done in conjunction with The Marist College Center for Sports Communication.

Men are slightly more likely than women to think that Sam’s announcement will have a negative impact on his professional football future.  29% of men, compared with 20% of women, believe Sam’s sexual orientation will make NFL teams less likely to choose him.     

“These results indicate that many football fans view professional football as a sport which is increasingly accepting of openly gay athletes,” says Dr. Keith Strudler, Director of The Marist College Center for Sports Communication.  ”They believe that Michael Sam’s abilities, not his orientation, will determine his professional future.”

To be eligible for the NFL Draft, football players need to be out of high school for at least three years.  And, more than seven in ten football fans — 71% — think this is the right amount of time to wait before entering the draft.  15% believe the length of time is too long while 12% say it is not long enough.  Two percent are unsure.

Table: Impact of Michael Sam’s Announcement that He is Gay on NFL Draft

Table: Length of Time after High School Football Players Need to Wait Before Entering NFL Draft

Majority Supports Rookie Salary Cap

57% of football fans think there should be a salary cap for new players and that they should be paid less than players who have more experience.  39%, however, believe rookies should receive whatever the market will pay them even if they earn more than their experienced teammates.  Four percent are unsure.  Men — 41% — are slightly more likely than women — 36% — to think the pay limit should be lifted.

How many Americans are football fans?  65% follow professional football, at least, a little.  This includes 22% who watch a great deal of the game, 16% who follow a good amount of it, and 27% who catch a few games.  36% of adults nationally do not follow the game at all.  The proportion of football fans has remained steady.  When Marist last reported this question in 2011, 67% of Americans said they followed football, at least, a little.

Although there is a gender divide, nearly six in ten women — 57% — say they are football fans.  This compares with more than seven in ten men — 72% — who follow the sport.

Table: Favor or Oppose NFL Salary Cap for New Players

Table:  Professional Football Fans

 How the Survey was Conducted

Nature of the Sample

 

12/19: Whatever! Still Oh SO Annoying

December 19, 2013 by  
Filed under Featured, Living, Odds and Ends, Odds and Ends Polls

For the fifth straight year, Americans consider “whatever” to be the most annoying word or phrase in conversation today.  38% find “whatever” to be the most irritating while 22% report “like” gets on their nerves the most.  “You know” irks 18% of Americans while 14% want to see “just sayin’” stricken from casual conversation.  Six percent detest “obviously,” and 2% are unsure.

Click Here for Complete December 19, 2013 USA Marist Poll Release and Tables

There has been an increase in the proportion of residents who consider “whatever” to be the most annoying word.  In last year’s survey, 32% thought “whatever” was the most abrasive.  21% said “like” was most irritating while 17% thought “you know” was an unnecessary choice of words.  “Just sayin’” bothered 10% of Americans the most while “Twitterverse” — 9% — and “gotcha” — 5% — rounded out the list.  Five percent were unsure.

Table: Most Annoying Conversational Word or Phrase

“Obamacare” Taboo Term for 2014 

Looking ahead to 2014, which political word or phrase would Americans like to eliminate from the discussion?  More than four in ten — 41% — do not want to hear “Obamacare.”  There is also a strong aversion to Washington’s budget speak.  30% would prefer not to hear “shutdown” while 11% would like “gridlock” left out of the vernacular.  One in ten — 10% — does not want to hear “fiscal cliff” while 4% feel the same about “sequestration.”  Four percent are unsure.  Not surprisingly, Democrats and Republicans have a different take on what they don’t want to hear in 2014.  59% of Republicans have had it with “Obamacare,” while 45% of Democrats cringe at the sound of “shutdown.”

Table: Political Term Least Want to Hear in 2014

 

How the Survey was Conducted

Nature of the Sample

 

 

 

1/29: Sports Roundup

January 29, 2013 by  
Filed under Featured, Len Berman

If winter comes, can spring be far behind?  Although it’s the eve of the Super Bowl, for those whose passion is baseball it’s a matter of days until pitchers and catchers report.  The Marist Poll’s John Sparks chats with sports journalist and Marist Poll Contributor Len Berman about this year’s prospects for the Yankees, Mets, and Len’s predictions for Super Bowl XLVII.

Len Berman

Len Berman

Listen to the interview or read the transcript below.

Listen to part 1:

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John Sparks

What a world we live in.  We’ve got a Heisman contender with a fake dying girlfriend.  The NCAA investigating itself in the University of Miami football mess.  Hockey players back on the ice.  Sammy Sosa thinks he and McGwire belong in Cooperstown although this year no one was elected to the Hall of Fame, and there’s excitement in Baltimore for the first time since Johnny Unitas as the Ravens prepare for a Super Bowl.  Now, I was talking with Marist contributor Carl Leubsdorf yesterday.  He thinks that the Washington Nationals will win the World Series.  So, there’s excitement INSIDE the Beltway.  Let’s quickly talk a little baseball.  First of all American League East.  Am I nuts or do the Yankees seem to be out of it in trying to build a contender this year?

Len Berman

Well, you know, John, I’m one of those people who think that this could be the year the Yankees don’t make the playoffs.  I mean they have this self-imposed salary cap.  Now, you wonder if they’ll ever be able to help themselves when it comes to spending money because over the years they’ve always outspent everybody.  But, what happens if they really do keep to that salary cap?  All of a sudden smarts will enter into the equation, and the Yankees have always been accused of being smart with their checkbook, as opposed to being smart with their brains.  So, that remains to be seen.  I think Toronto have improved themselves.  The Orioles are certainly an exciting young group, and I just wonder if this is the year it all falls apart for the Yankees. You know, people refer to 1965 as the watershed year for the Yankees when the dynasty ended.  Maybe, 2013 is the latter day 1965.

John Sparks
What’s the deal with the Steinbrenner boys?  They certainly aren’t like the old man.

Len Berman
Well, but that’s, that’s good and bad.  I mean George was so tempestuous and flew by the seat of his pants.  But, he was certainly entertaining, and he’s missed from that standpoint.  I don’t know if…  Well, maybe he would have given Alex Rodriguez that God awful contract that his kids had doled out.  But, that’s going to be an albatross hanging around their necks for years to come unless they can somehow unload him.  But, I wouldn’t sell the boys short.  They’re certainly astute business-wise, and they want to face the new reality of $189 million dollar salary caps.  So let’s, you know, the jury is out on the boys.

John Sparks

You mentioned A-Rod.  And, aren’t steroids really the cause of all his physical problems?  And, if so, isn’ there any way they can dump him?

Len Berman

No.  I don’t think so.  I don’t know if it’s the cause. You certainly have to feel suspect.  He did take steroids.  He admitted to some of it.  So, you wonder.  You know, like I tell my kids, if you lie once, you lie every time. So, just because he admitted to taking it for a couple of years doesn’t mean he really took it a lot longer.  I wonder about that relationship with Dr. Galea, the disgraced Canadian doctor.  I wonder what his involvement was.  So, yeah there are a lot of open questions about A-Rod, and I don’t know if, if the steroids caused everything. Now, what was the second part of the question?

John Sparks

Well, I just wondered if the Yankees could not turn him loose…

Len Berman

Right.  Well, I think they looked hard into that when they had the problem with Jason Giambi.  And, I think their lawyers came up and said no because Giambi signed under false pretenses, and then he was caught up in steroids.  So, my guess is that just because someone’s involved in steroids, doesn’t mean you can dump a contract.  That doesn’t mean they won’t try, but I don’t think they would be successful.

Listen to part 2:

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John Sparks

Let’s look at the rest of the league.  American League West?  Angels, Rangers, and now, we’ve got the Houston Astros.  What do you think there?

Len Berman

Well, I’m not counting on the Houston Astros to provide much other than a punching bag.  You know, I hope Seattle improves a little.  You always have to worry about the Angels.  And then you know, Oakland seems to do it with mirrors every year.  And then, Texas still has talent.  That’s a loaded division.  And, that could be the division that knocks the Yankees out.  In other words, if you have extra wild cards coming from the West, I think the Yankees would be in trouble.  So, I think you know, I think you’re strong on the coasts.  The middle of the country, I’m not so sure of in the American League.

John Sparks

Well, you have the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central with Justin Verlander.  Are they going to repeat in the Central?

Len Berman

Well, I think it’s hard to repeat.  I mean I’m more excited by Cabrerra to see what he does coming off his triple crown year.  You know, Kansas City’s out there lurking, you know, improving bit by bit.  But, you had some, you had probably the worst teams in the American League all bunched up in the Central, and you know I don’t know if the White Sox… you know, I guess Detroit would have to be considered the favorite because when you look at the rest of the division I’m not sure there’s much competition there.

Listen to part 3:

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John Sparks

Let’s go to the senior circuit.  The Dodgers, now, are Major League Baseball’s top spenders outspending the Yankees.  Will it bring Don Mattingly a trip to the World Series that he never experienced in pinstripes?

Len Berman 

Yeah.  I hope so.  I’m a big Don Mattingly fan.  And, I think with all the money infused, and they’re about to sign their new whopping television deal so there’ll be even more money in it.  I don’t think they’re afraid of any kind of salary cap.   San Francisco you have to just tip your cap.  They’ve won two out of three.  And you know, so they’ll give them the competition there.  But I, secretly I’m pulling for the Dodgers.  I love Mattingly.  I think he’s one of the classiest guys baseball’s ever seen, and I hope, I hope they get him to a World Series.

John Sparks

Indeed.  Let’s go to the National League East.  Mets or Mutts?  Will they ever regain their past glory?

Len Berman

Well, the Mets are struggling.  And I, you know, I was with some of their team executives the other night.  And, you know, their mantra is we’re not as bad as people think we are.  Well, that’s one hell of a catch phrase.  You know, in their division, they’re dealing with three very, very good teams.  I mean, I think your friend who likes the Washington Nats has a lot to bank on. I think they are the favorites.  They had the best record last year in all of baseball, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t do just as well this year with their young kids.  Atlanta.  I think that’s a tough, tough team.  And, I think Philadelphia’s going to be better than a .500 club.  So, I think the Mets are going to be buried for the foreseeable future.

John Sparks

Finally, in the National League Central.  No more Astros.  Pirates seem to be arming up, but will the Cardinals repeat?

Len Berman

Well, that’s hard to say.  I think Cincinnati is really the team in the Central.  I like what they’ve got with the live arms out there, and Milwaukee’s better.  You know, they’re lurking.  They’re over .500.  I think… I would like to hope that this is the year Pittsburgh finally goes above .500.  I think they set the North American record for losing seasons.  They flirted with it last year, but didn’t make it.  I like this year, but I still, you know the class of this division is going to be Cincinnati, I think.

Listen to part 4:

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John Sparks

Len, I want to go back to this steroids business for just a moment.  Should they be discounted when it comes to baseball’s Hall of Fame?

Len Berman

Well, I think you have to make intelligent choices.  In other words, I think you have to look at each in a case-by-case basis.  I think Sammy Sosa’s nuts.  I think clearly the conventional wisdom is that if not for steroids he would not have done what he did.  Same with Mark McGwire.  So I think you have to discount those two from the Hall of Fame which certainly elevates the candidacy of Roger Maris, but that’s another story.  But, I think what you have to do is say to yourselves, and it’s very difficult because in essence steroid users were cheaters, I think you have to say to yourself would this person have been a hall of famer without steroids.  And, I think, that if you really go down the line, you have to say that Barry Bonds without steroids would have made the Hall of Fame.  And, the same goes for Roger Clemens.  So I think, you know, I think down the road those two deserve to be in.  But heck.  I’ve been, I’ve been campaigning for Pete Rose forever to no avail. So, I think on the field accomplishments are what really counts, and I know there’s an integrity clause when it comes to Major League Baseball, but there are so many scoundrels in the Hall of Fame that, you know, they’ve certainly gone through that loop hole with, with a Mack truck.

John Sparks

Len, we’ve been talking and looking ahead with baseball, but we’re right on the eve of the Super Bowl.  49ers or Ravens?  What do you think?

Len Berman

Well, you know, whatever I choose, I think you should pick the opposite.  I mean I shocked myself by correctly picking the two winners in the championship games.  I picked the two road teams which went against form, and they both won.  There’s something I like about Baltimore.  I like the redemption story.  You know, forget the Harbaughs and forget Ray Lewis.  I like the Flacco story.  I mean here’s a guy who’s been just a, you know, demonized for so long as just being just an average quarterback, and here he is driving the Ravens to the Super Bowl.  They certainly have a much better quarterback than when they won Super Bowl XXXV.  So, I’m gonna, I’m gonna cast my lot with Flacco which means if you’re a betting man you should go and probably bet the house on San Francisco, but I’m gonna, I’m gonna lean towards Baltimore on this one.

John Sparks

Okay, Len.  Finally what’s going on with you these days?  You’re still doing some television.  You’re writing books.  You’ve got your daily e-mail blog.  And, you emceed an event with Yogi the other night.  How’s Yogi doing, and how are you doing?

Len Berman

Yeah.  I’m doing fine.  I’m really enjoying my new life of not working the news every single night.  I have my ThatsSports.com website and send out a daily e-mail.  And, I’ve written some books.  My latest was “Greatest Moments in Sports—Upsets and Underdogs”.  And, I’m on the Today Show once a month with my Spanning the World feature, and I’m contributing to Channel 5 locally in New York with my Top Five on Channel Five once a week.  So, I’m keeping dabbled so to speak, and I’m going to continue to stay active.

John Sparks

Finally, before we call it quits, how can folks sign up for your blog?

Len Berman

They just go to ThatsSports.com and I send out a daily e-mail, you know, and there’s no spam involved, and I just give my take on sports. Some of it’s whimsical.  Some of it’s serious.  You know, the whimsical nature I talked about the Orlando sportswriter who said tha we finally know who was sitting in Clint Eastwood’s chair at the Republican Convention.  It was Manti Te’O’s girlfriend.  So, that’s the whimsy aspect, but you know, we have fun with it.  And, some serious issues such as injuries.  Head injuries in football we talked about today.  So, it covers the gamut and we have a lot of fun with it.

John Sparks

Len, You’re the best.  And, it’s always great talking with you.  Thanks for your time, and we look forward to our next visit.

Len Berman

All right.  Thanks, John.

12/27: “Whatever” Still Viewed as Most Annoying Word or Phrase, Just Sayin’

December 27, 2012 by  
Filed under Featured, Living, Odds and Ends, Odds and Ends Polls

For the fourth consecutive year, Americans consider “whatever” to be the most annoying word or phrase in conversation.  More than three in ten — 32% — have this view while “like” irritates 21% of residents nationally.  17% are most irked by “you know” while 10% would prefer to ban “just sayin’” from today’s lexicon.  “Twitterverse” annoys 9% of adults while 5% are ticked off by “gotcha.”  Five percent are unsure.

Click Here for Complete December 27, 2012 USA Marist Poll Release and Tables

In last year’s survey, 38% thought “whatever” to be the most obnoxious word in casual conversation while 20% said “like” was the most irritating.  19% despised hearing “you know” while “just sayin’” was the most bothersome to 11% of Americans.  “Seriously” made last year’s list with 7% reporting it was the most annoying word in conversation.  Five percent, at that time, were unsure.

Table: Most Annoying Conversational Word or Phrase

How the Survey was Conducted

Nature of the Sample

 

8/29: What About the Economy?

Whatever happened to this election being about the economy and only the economy? Well, the summer months ushered in a slew of back and forth arguments between the Obama and Romney campaigns which had little to do with what Romney hoped would be a referendum on President Obama and the stalled economic recovery.

Instead of staying on his jobs message, we’ve witnessed a Romney campaign having to handle Supreme Court decisions on immigration and health care, his role with Bain Capital, outsourcing, Swiss bank accounts, the reluctance to release his income tax returns, a gaffe-filled trip to Europe, and recently, candidate Akin’s misguided comments on abortion and rape.  Even the GOP convention has been delayed by the threat of Hurricane Isaac.

This week will be Romney’s best chance to reintroduce himself to the American electorate and, along with Congressman Ryan, re-direct the discussion back to jobs.  Next week will be President Obama’s chance to provide a clear rationale for his re-election.

And then, next Friday, mere hours following Obama’s acceptance speech, the government will issue the latest jobs numbers.  If the picture remains as unattractive as the last few months have shown, expect the Romney-Ryan team to pounce on the figures and take the offense.  So far, that hasn’t come easy for them, but they would be well advantaged to fill the weeks between the conventions and the debates with as much discussion  about the economy as they can.

2/23: The Latest on the GOP Race

Where does the race for the Republican nomination stand?  What are the chances of a brokered convention?  And, who has the best odds against President Barack Obama?   The Marist Poll’s John Sparks visits with Marist Poll Analyst and syndicated political columnist Carl Leubsdorf who writes a weekly column for The Dallas Morning News about  this and more.

Carl Leubsdorf

Carl Leubsdorf

Listen to the interview below.

Part 1:


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John Sparks
Carl, where do you think things stand on a Republican nominee at this point?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, I think the Republican race is much more uncertain than we thought it would be at this stage. The general assumption was that Mitt Romney was a reasonably strong frontrunner and would show that, but he’s proved to be a weaker front-runner than many people anticipated. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with his campaign, and his campaign is well run. He’s got lots of money. In fact, his money has saved him so far. He has two big problems.

One is that the dominant conservative wing of the party has never quite accepted him as one of theirs. Romney keeps insisting he’s a conservative, but the problem is that he wasn’t always a conservative. He was pretty moderate when he ran against Ted Kennedy for the Massachusetts’ Senate race in ’94. He was pro choice. He was in favor of doing positive things for the gay and lesbian community. He at one point was a registered independent. He voted for Democrat Paul Tsongas in the ’92 Democratic Presidential Primary and was critical of President Reagan. So, his conservatism is rather recent and to some critics in the party is something that he’s acquired for purposes of running for president.

His other problem is he’s just not an effective candidate. He has trouble when he gets off his script. He doesn’t mesh with real people too well, and he has a tendency to say some odd things.  He was last week, for example, in Michigan and talking about his affinity for Michigan, the state in which he grew upin.  He said he loved Michigan. He said he loved its trees. They’re the right height. Now, what in the devil does that mean? He talks not like a real person sometimes, so he’s had a lot of trouble there.

The real fight in the party has been: Who is the conservative opponent for Romney? That’s sort of been going on from the beginning and, as we know dating back to last summer, we’ve had a whole string of pretenders [sic], various Republican contenders — Michele Bachmann; Governor Perry of Texas, Herman Cain soar to the top of the Republican race then in December, Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House. About the only one who didn’t was Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania Senator and who was plotting along working in Iowa, visiting every country there. But in the end, the conservatives in Iowa sort of solidified around Santorum. On the night of the caucuses, it appeared he had lost narrowly there, but when they finally counted all the votes, he in fact beat Mitt Romney there. It’s been a peculiar race though. Then Mitt Romney won in New Hampshire where he has a summer home, and it’s adjacent to Massachusetts where he was a governor. He looked like he was on the right track, but then in South Carolina, a state that every Republican nominee has won since they started their primary in 1980, Newt Gingrich beat Romney rather decisively. The following week in Florida, Romney turned the tables on Gingrich. Meanwhile, Santorum was sort of finishing well back in the pack in some of those states. Well he was working in some of the caucus states rather than the primary states, which it’s a lot cheaper to run there, and they’re the kinds of situations dominated by the more conservative wing of the party. And on Tuesday two weeks ago, he scored three victories which have catapulted him into the lead in the national — in most national Republican polls. It was an odd set of races. One was Missouri, a non-binding primary where he won quite easily. The other were two caucus states which Romney had won four years ago, and that I think explains why these had such a big impact. One was Minnesota where Governor Romney had the support of the state’s former governor and one of its leading Republicans, Tim Pawlenty, and Santorum won there. And the other is Colorado, not considered as conservative a state, a state with quite a few Mormons in it as Romney is, and Santorum won that too. So, it really turned the race upside down.  It established Santorum as the main rival to Romney. And in Michigan, that is next week we have two primaries, in Michigan and in Arizona, and the major test is Michigan, the state in which Governor Romney grew up in and where his father was a popular Republican governor in the ’60s, and every poll so far shows, Santorum leading there.  So, if Santorum would actually beat Romney in Michigan that would really turn this race upside down. Romney could no longer be considered the front-runner, and it would really set Santorum with a real chance of becoming the nominee, but that hasn’t happened yet.

So, that’s a long version of where things stand.

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John Sparks
If something like that does happen, looking down the road, where do you think the tides might turn for a candidate? In Texas, the primary has been delayed until probably late May. Could Texas be a decider?

Carl Leubsdorf
Texas, I mean… And actually, I think Santorum would probably like to have Texas sooner rather than later because there’s a new poll put out by the Texas Tribune and the University of Texas that shows Santorum with a rather substantial lead. Remember this: The Texas Republican Party is very conservative. In the primary for governor last year where Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison challenged Governor Perry, Hutchison got 30% of the vote, Perry got 50% of the vote, and a Tea Party candidate got 20% of the vote. That means that 70% of the votes cast were cast for very conservative candidates.  So, this is not a good — Texas is not a good state for Romney. He’s probably just as well for the primary has been delayed indefinitely.

What happens after next Tuesday, and I mentioned that Arizona is also voting next Tuesday, its rivals have pretty much conceded that to Governor Romney. So whatever happens, he’ll have a victory, but if he only wins Michigan – - wins Arizona and doesn’t win Michigan, it will be something of a hollow victory because the real fight is in Michigan.  The week after that we have so called “Super Tuesday” with a whole bunch of primaries. Some are in states like Massachusetts where Governor Romney almost certainly is going to be the winner, but in states like Tennessee and Oklahoma and Georgia, Newt Gingrich’s home state, so it’s going to be a very interesting day and not a great day probably for Romney. His next big stand would probably come on the 20th of March in Illinois, the kind of state that Romney as a more moderate Northern candidate ought to be — have a good chance in. But, as I say, if Romney loses in Michigan next week, all bets are off.

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John Sparks
Carl, could it be that we could head into the National Convention and see a brokered convention if things keep flip-flopping?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well let me approach that in a couple of ways because every time we have one of these fights and it looks a little bit inconclusive, the first words that come out are “brokered convention.” First of all, it’s not clear who would broker a convention because the idea that candidates who have run for months and months and years in some cases would suddenly say, “Okay, we’re deadlocked, let’s like let a bunch of party leaders who’ve been on the sidelines decide it.” It ain’t[sic] going to happen that way.  That’s not how it works.  To have a brokered convention, you probably need three, at least three candidates with substantial number of delegates. Now the problem in the Republican Party now is that there are four candidates still staying in the race, and one of the issues will be whether in addition to Santorum and Romney, the other two candidates, Gingrich and Ron Paul, continue to acquire delegates. That’s not at all certain. Someone did a study, and they said that if Romney won the rest of the primaries with 49%, he wouldn’t win enough delegates to be nominated till June. If one of these candidates starts winning more decisively, they will not be getting 49% of the votes, they’ll be getting 59% and 69%, and they will be getting well over half of the delegates in most of these races. Gingrich, for example, has got to make a showing on Super Tuesday with races in Georgia and Tennessee. I haven’t seen any Georgia polls, but, in Tennessee, the last poll I saw had Santorum up by a pretty substantial margin. Gingrich’s only hope is that his principal financial supporter, Mr. Adelson out in Las Vegas, is planning to spend a lot of money in his behalf. That might help keep him in, but he is — he looks like the guy on the outside now as Santorum and Romney are fighting, and Ron Paul is sort of working along the fringes in smaller states. He will continue to get delegates, but it’s not clear how many delegates. So, that’s the first thing. There has to be three candidates getting delegates because otherwise the leading candidate, assuming there becomes a leading candidate, will begin to pile up delegates at a big pace.

If one of the candidates has a substantial lead, but it doesn’t quite get to the figure over 1,100 that they need to be nominated, the first thing that would probably happen is that that candidate would try to make an accommodation with one of the other candidates to get some of his delegates.  As I say, the idea that Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum and Ron Paul and maybe Newt Gingrich after running all year would suddenly step in the sidelines and let former Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi or Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana try to decide the nominee, it just doesn’t happen.

Now the other possibility is that another candidate comes into the race. There are a number of primaries where the deadlines have not yet been reached and where a candidate could come in. Now that’s very hard to do. There’ve been a number of examples. It’s very interesting. The pattern of this race is beginning to resemble two past races of recent years in which there was an insurgency against a rather weak establishment candidate. One was 1964 when Barry Goldwater was running against Nelson Rockefeller for the Republican nomination. One was 1972 where George McGovern was challenging Senator Ed Muskie for the Democratic nomination on the Vietnam War issue. In both cases another candidate did come in. As Muskie began to collapse in ’72, the party leadership encouraged Hubert Humphrey, the former vice president, to get into the race, and he carried the race all the way to the convention but did not win. In 1964 when the Rockefeller candidacy faltered and it appeared that Goldwater was going to get nominated, a number of the party leaders got behind Governor Scranton of Pennsylvania and got him into the race in the last month, and that went nowhere. Goldwater had enough delegates and was nominated. So, you could get another candidate in. You could get party leaders to trying to do something, but there’s no guarantee that they would derail some arrangement among the top candidates. The danger here is that if the more ideological candidate gets nominated, and that would be Santorum in this case, the danger is that that candidate often has a more difficult time winning the general election. Goldwater carried six states against Lyndon Johnson, and McGovern carried one state in the District of Columbia against Richard Nixon. Now, this election won’t be that one-sided in any case. The Republicans will certainly win a certain number of states in the South and in the mountain area, and the Democrats will certainly will win a bunch of states in the Northeast, but what looks on paper to be a close race might not be so close if the Republicans nominate a candidate who drives away independent voters.

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John Sparks
As Republicans continue to battle in public, isn’t the real winner sitting in the White House sitting on his $76 million in campaign funds waiting for the general election?

Carl Leubsdorf
Sure.  As I said, the battle — the real key to this election are the independents. The Democrats are 90% for Obama, and the Republicans are 90% for whichever one of these candidates gets nominated, but the different tallies show different numbers among the independents.  Most of the discussion of that until very recently had to do with Romney versus Gingrich and that Romney was a better candidate against the independents, for the independents, being more moderate than Gingrich. It’s more complicated with Santorum because on one hand, he seems to have definite appeal to blue collar voters, what we call the “Reagan Democrats,” the people who were union people and of ethnic origin who had been traditional Democrats but were fairly conservative on social issues and began to vote Republican often starting with President Reagan, but there’s another group of independents, and those are the suburban independents. I always like to call them the  “Clinton Republicans.” They probably voted for Reagan in the ’80s, but they then voted for Bill Clinton in the ’90s, and they voted for Al Gore, and they certainly voted for Obama, and they’re not as conservative on the social issues. And if the Republicans have a candidate who stresses social issues, like Santorum, he’s going to have a lot trouble with the suburban voters in major states.

The White House likes this. The White House has been planning all along for a race against Romney.  You know, Romney is still the more likely candidate, but he has shown his weakness steadily through this race, but they’re also beginning to consider what would happen if Santorum were the candidate. They haven’t done much about that yet. There’s a lot of material on Santorum, especially from his unsuccessful re-election race in Pennsylvania in 2006 against Bob Casey, a conservative Democrat. Lots of material from there that has not been used so far, which the Democrats have. So, a lot of that will depend on what happens here. The White House is quite happy for the Republicans to be fighting among themselves, using up their financial resources, and the fact that the campaign has taken on such a negative tone among these candidates, especially in the television commercials.  So, the White House is quite pleased through this. In the meantime, the economy has gotten somewhat better, and so, it looks like President Obama’s situation politically is somewhat better than it was last year. That doesn’t mean he’s yet a strong favorite to win, it still looks like a close race, but more and more people who follow this are thinking that Obama’s chances are beginning to edge above the 50% mark.

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John Sparks
Interesting that you mention independents. Twenty years ago, Ross Perot launched his presidential bid as a third party candidate. Last week, Tom Friedman was talking about that and suggesting maybe the time was now ripe for an independent candidate, a third party candidate.  Any chance of something like that happening?

Carl Leubsdorf
There has been a group called “Americans Elect” that is talking about getting a ballot space in every state with the idea of having an Internet primary and putting a candidate on the ballot. The problem with this is they don’t at this point have a candidate, and most American third party movements have been driven not by parties but by candidates. For example, when Ross Perot decided to run for president 20 years ago, he created the mechanism to get on the ballot. It wasn’t like there was a party out there that nominated Ross Perot, and the same thing happened in 1968 when former Governor George Wallace of Alabama ran as an independent candidate for president. So this Americans Elect group so far does not have a candidate. I’ve noticed over the weekend there is one person who has emerged who might try to win that nomination. His name is David Walker. He’s not known at all. He’s a deficit hawk who was the comptroller general of the United States, which is a bookkeeping job pretty much in the government, and he’s been a big advocate of cutting the deficit and taking stern measures and not — to deal with the deficit issue.  So he might be a candidate for that, but I think it’s going to be very difficult for a third party candidate to be in this race.

John Sparks
Carl, in 1992 when Perot ran, the clear loser was an incumbent president, George H. W. Bush. If a third party candidate were to emerge, who would be most likely to be vulnerable?

Carl Leubsdorf
I think probably if someone ran on a deficit cutting ticket that it would probably hurt President Obama more than the Republican candidate. It’s interesting, Alan Lichtman, the Professor of history at American University who developed a system for judging president races, has what he calls “13 Keys to the Presidency.”  And if a certain number turn against the president, the incumbent president he’ll lose.  And he became very famous about 20 years ago because one he was one of the early people who fingered George H.W. Bush as a loser in 1992 as he turned out to be, and one of his keys is a third party candidacy, a third party candidacy in his system hurts the incumbent. Again, it really depends how many votes the… you could say that the Ralph Nader candidacy, which is, of course, Nader has run several times, in 2000 defeated Al Gore because Nader got enough votes in New Hampshire, presumably mostly from liberals, that it was more than the difference by which Gore lost the state to George W. Bush.  And without Nader in the race, Gore probably would’ve carried New Hampshire, and that would’ve been enough to win that very close election. So in that, he was running as the candidate of the incumbent party. So I think a centrist independent is bad for Obama. On the other hand, if say — and there’s no sign of this at point, suppose Mitt Romney wins the Republican nomination, and a group of conservatives get together and say, “He’s too moderate for us, we want a conservative candidate,” and they run a conservative candidate as a third party candidate and get on ballot, that would obviously hurt the Republicans.

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John Sparks
If you just have a Republican versus the President in November, who’s the best candidate?  Who prevails if it’s Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, or even Ron Paul? Who do you think has the best chance?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, I think the assumption all along has been that Romney would have the best chance basically because he’s more moderate than the others.  He would have a better chance of getting independent votes, and most of the polling until now has shown that. Now interestingly, some of the more recent polling has shown Santorum’s chances are almost as good, and the places where Santorum would challenge Obama more may be somewhat different from the states where Romney would. Romney, a lot of people, more moderate voters, probably don’t believe Romney’s conversion to conservatism like the more conservative Republicans who don’t believe it either and might vote for him on that basis. Now he says he’ll have a very conservative presidency and has listed some of the positions he’ll take, and then that’s always a danger that the zeal of the newly converted is greater than that of the traditional holder of the views. George W. Bush ran as something of a moderate personality in 2000, but he said he would name Supreme Court justices like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and he named two very conservative Supreme Court justices. So, you got to be careful of what you wish for, it may not be what the candidate will advocate.

But at the moment, Romney looks stronger, but he’s got a lot of flaws as a candidate. For example, you would think that he would be able to take advantage of the bad economy in a place like Michigan, his home state because of him being a businessman, but he opposed the bailout of the auto companies which has been spectacularly successful and has saved General Motors and Chrysler, and he’s still arguing that it was a bad idea. That’s hurting him in Michigan. Heck, it’s hurting him against Santorum in the primary even though they both had the same position, partly because Romney was in favor of the bank bailout but against the auto bailout whereas Santorum was much more consistent. He was against both of them.  So, I still think Romney is (a) the more likely nominee and (b) the stronger general election candidate, but he’s been hurt a lot by the race so far.

John Sparks
Carl, it’s always a pleasure. I’ll be watching with interest, as I know you will, and look forward to visiting with you again real soon.

Carl Leubsdorf
Happy to do it, and it’s just been a fascinating race and much more than we could’ve bargained for.

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