The Miers Nomination: Reviewing the Blogosphere As A Gauge of Important Public Opinion

Thursday, October 27, 2005
I had a thought this morning as I was absorbing the news that Harriet Miers bowed to the inevitable and submitted her letter of withdrawal to the White House.

The thought was that the Blogosphere is now an important tool for the sophisticated and accurate measurement of important public opinion and is potentially much more valuable in this regard than traditional polling.

I have neither education nor experience in statistics or public opinion sampling techniques. What follows has only the Yogi Berra stamp of approval, "You can see a lot just by looking".

Any practitioner of the art of Political Science who followed Yogi's first law of observation would have seen the following phenomena after the nomination of Harriet Miers:
  • An immediate and nearly simultaneous expression of disappointment and outrage from a plethora of influential bloggers who have made their bones since September 11, 2001 as fervent supporters (albeit not uncritically so) of George W. Bush. This was either orchestrated by some hitherto unseen diabolical hand or was genuine and sincere.
  • An expression of caution from a smaller coterie of similarly supportive bloggers and commenters on the above-mentioned outraged bloggers' sites, urging the outraged to keep their powder dry and give the nominee a chance.
  • Two (count em, that is two) bloggers of stature with unblemished Bush-supporting credentials, to wit, viz Hewitt and Beldar, who valiantly and positively supported the nominee.

This state of affairs did not change during the several week period between nomination and withdrawal as more and more information surfaced on the heretofore somewhat obscure nominee.

Anyone having a familiarity with the personalities, geographic distribution, political leanings, age, and gender of the bloggers in question had information on a very interesting segment of the population: Those who take time to read about current affairs and articulate their reactions to what they read about them. Generally a cross section of opinion leaders throughout the country.

This is far more information than gleaned from reading leading Washington Pundits and even local editors. One sees variations on themes in the blogosphere, not lock step letters to senators written by lobbyists and their P.R. firms.

You get grass roots exchanges of views if you want to look for them. And you can evaluate them qualitatively as well as quantitatively. No push polling and no other shenanigans by the pollsters.

Pretty valuable information it seems to me.

10 comments:

MeaninglessHotAir said...

I think that's an excellent point. I think it will take a while before this fact filters into the PR firms, and last of all into the minds of the Senators.

But when it does, expect big money to move in and try to dominate the blogs.

terrye said...

I don't know.

In some way the blogs are insular.

Most rank and file GOP supported Miers according to polsters like Gallup.

I think that the blogs attract a certain kind of political junkie and we would be mistaken to believe we are typical.

There are millions of Americans and more of them will watch reruns of Andy Griffith than will hang out at any blog.

If a blog gets 100,000 views a day it is a huge huge deal, well that is nothing compared to how many people watch the World Series or even cable news for that matter.

We might implode.

ambisinistral said...

I don't think blogs replace polling by any stretch of the imagination. What I think they do is have an effect on political and cultural debate on a certain segment of the public.

First, and most obviously, issues which may have faded away in the past -- the Swiftboat Vets comes to mind -- can now have a life that exists primarily on the web for a while, before eventually spilling out to the general public. Editors are no longer the sole arbiters of which issues are covered.

The second is the debating society nature of blog comments. Issues really are turned around and examined from verious angles in blog comment sections. This is amplified even more when the same issue is handled by several different blogs, for example a serious blog like the Belmont club and a more raucous blog like Tim Blair's. This expands the multitude of views on an issue even further.

Blogs can go into surprising detail over issues. They are the antedotes to soundbites and that impacts public political debate considerably.

Rick Ballard said...

"But when it does, expect big money to move in and try to dominate the blogs."




My principles are not for sale!!!*









*Short or long term lease arrangements can be arranged via email contact. PayPal, Visa, MasterCard, personal checks, cash, stamps or cans and bottles with a specified redemption value are all acceptable forms of payment.

terrye said...

rick:

You traitor.

I myself am above that sort of thing.

vnjagvet said...

I am not advancing the proposition that blogs will replace polling, but that they will be an important supplement because of the qualitative evaluation that can be made of them.

I agree with Terrye that to some extent blogs are insular. But you do get a flavor of a cross section of opinion by examining these blogs critically.

As ambi observes, there are a number of levels on which blogs operate. What is new is the transparancy and accessability to the advocacy and debates around that advocacy that for years has been conducted in halls and back rooms all over the country.

Rick Ballard said...

Vnjagvet,

I believe that wrt pulic opinion blogs serve as open focus groups rather than performing an ancillary polling function. I don't believe that the political pros have taken the full measure of the power of blogs - even with the example of the SwiftBoat Vets before them. I also don't believe that bloggers have demonstrated much acumen with regard to governance as opposed to electioneering.

Treating Miers as a political opponent is one of the stupidest political moves that I have ever seen. While the snitwits are patting themselves on the back today some of us are going to file this away and feed this back to them in a few months. Another factor in play with the internet is the ability to reach back into the archive when a point about an opponents past needs to be brought to light in order to establish - or diminish - current credibility.

It's an interesting subject that should be revisited regularly.

vnjagvet said...

Rick:

Like "the public" the blogosphere as a whole is unsophisticated.

But there are some very sophisticated folks blogging and commenting on blogs, many with different strengths.

After a while, you can pick out those that have savvy in governance as well as campaigning. There are a number that seem to understand the realities of votes in the Senate and other such mundane matters that make the difference between success and failure.

If you surf around (and it would be worthwhile for the political professional to pay facile students to do so) you can construct a pretty good model for nearly any profile you wish by aggregating selected blogs and their commenters. Following them can yield information difficult, if not impossible, to collect in traditional ways.

flenser said...

vnjagvet

While this is an excellent post overall, there is one point I feel you are mistaken on.

"This state of affairs did not change during the several week period between nomination and withdrawal as more and more information surfaced on the heretofore somewhat obscure nominee."

In fact, several influential bloggers moved from the "undecided" to the "anti" camp in the last two days as new information came out. In particular, Ed Morrisey of CQ, and Paul Mirengoff and Scott Johnson of Powerline, all moved into the opposition camp on October 26th.

vnjagvet said...

Good point, Flenser.

My impression was that movements from "keep your powder dry" to withdraw did not materially make a difference in the outcome. Most significantly, there was no movement into the "active support" column, which remained a meager (but mighty) two.

I also did not note that for unexplained reasons, Beldar did not post after October 19.