The most recent Quinnipiac poll, usually reliable, shows U.S. Senate Republican Nominating Convention choice Linda McMahon surging over primary challenger Chris Shays. Mrs. McMahon leads Mr. Shays in the primary poll by nearly 30 points, a considerable increase in March figures showing Mrs. McMahon leading Mr. Shays by a slender 9 points.
At the same time, Mrs. McMahon has reduced the lead enjoyed last March by U.S. Representative Chris Murphy, having reduced a 15 point Murphy lead to 3 points, a virtual tie.
The poll removes from Republican primary challenger Shay’s quiver an especially wounding arrow. Thus far, Mr. Shays has been arguing to the steady drumbeat of Connecticut’s left of center media that only he could successfully challenge Mr. Murphy in a general election campaign. March polling figures showed Mrs. McMahon lagging far behind Mr. Murphy, while Mr. Shays was snapping at his heels.
The most telling datum in the poll is Mrs. McMahon’s improvement among unaffiliated voters.
“McMahon's improvement in the general election against Murphy,” said poll director Douglas Schwartz, “is due to her better performance among independent voters. She now has 43 percent of these key voters, to Murphy's 41 percent, overcoming a 15-point deficit in March.”
This figure, reducing a deficit among Independents from 15 to 2 points, perhaps may tell Democrats in the state more than they would wish to know about the political orientation of Independent voters.
Mrs. McMahon’s surge comes at a time when the Shays campaign has brought in such heavy Washington hitters to stump for him as Karl Rove, once thought to be President George Bush’s brain, and Dick Morris, the pollster, author and columnist who made himself unwanted during the Clinton administration. Mr. McCain’s past association with Shays – the author of the equivalent of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill in the U.S. House – is particularly warm. Mr. McCain once told Mr. Shays that if the reform effort succeeded they would call the bill McCain-Feingold, and if it failed they would call it Shays-Meehan. Endorsements, evidently, do not have the same heft as in times past. Mrs. McMahon’s surprising surge has been attributed by many commentators to a raft of ads made possible by … wait for it … Mrs. McMahon’s obscene fortune.
The planted axiom in most media accounts of the race so far has been that Independents tend to be moderates, an assumption that assumes far too much. There are some indications that Independents, while formally unaffiliated with either of the two major parties, tend to be contrarians; and since the dominant political party in Connecticut – the ruling Democratic Party, ever since Dannel Malloy was elected Connecticut’s 88th governor by a slender majority – is now virtually unchallenged, the Independent contrarian may be strongly attracted to vigorous candidates whose history of party attachment is slight.
As both state parties begin to lose influence over a shifting landscape of distressed voters, Independents on both sides of the ideological barricades seem to have adopted as their operative principle a boast of Archimedes, the great Greek military engineer: “Give me a place outside the world where I may place my lever, and I will move the world.” But no place outside either of the nation’s two political parties offers a politically effective footing.
The natural instinct of a potential fire victim caught inside a burning building is to escape the fire; once outside, proprietary interests take over and, assuming he is invested in the property, he may want to join the effort to quench the fire. Both the Democratic and Republican fire brigades are very much interested in recruiting Independents to join in their separate and quite distinct efforts to save the burning house. As the danger becomes more pressing, the choice becomes more imperative and fraught with dubious consequences.
We know very little about the political psychology that moves Independents. Academics would perform a great service for their country if they were to probe Independents with their “scientific” instruments with a view to determining what William James, the father of American pragmatism, might have called the “live options” at the molten core of the county’s political structure, especially now when many indicators suggest the nation – indeed, the entire Western world – may be tottering on the brink of a new political realignment.We have had enough of polls. We need a serious scientific based analysis of the county’s shifting vital center