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If the political buzz among your friends is all the same, you need to make more friends

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One morning back in 1977, I was having coffee with a certain prominent public official (an appointee, not a politician) whose judgment in most matters I usually respected.

Our conversation eventually turned to an upcoming local election, and this guy said he was pretty sure that Candidate A would easily defeat Candidate B. He based this prediction, he said, on the opinions he had heard from virtually all of his friends.

My own sense of the situation was that the election likely would be closer than this other guy thought, but I didn’t say so. This was an older gentleman, and I didn’t want him to think of me as a smart-aleck.

Well, as it turned out, we were both wrong — but the other guy was more wrong than I. Candidate A got clobbered at the ballot box.

The lesson I learned from that episode was that you shouldn’t try to gauge the prevailing political winds on what your friends say — unless you’ve got lots and lots of friends representing a demographic cross-section of the community or the nation or whatever.

A corollary to that coffee conversation arose a year or two later, if memory serves, when a local politician told me of his concern that he might have trouble winning re-election. The problem, he said, was that he was getting blasted every day on a local talk-radio show. He said the host of the show and virtually all of the callers were highly critical of him and were eager to see him defeated.

I told him that he shouldn’t be so worried. There were no scientific polls to measure his popularity, but I knew for fact that the radio show at issue had pretty meager ratings. Moreover, the calls from listeners were almost invariably of one political flavor. This town is not all that one-sided I told him. Those people are just talking to themselves.

Sure enough, the guy easily won re-election. The blather on talk-radio had not represented the community at large.

This stuff came to mind this morning when I heard someone on radio say that all of his friends are “hopping mad” about the scandal-ridden Obama administration and want the president impeached forthwith. “Everybody” feels that way, he said, and he can’t understand why the Republicans don’t just throw Obama out as everyone wants.

Again, I had to figure that this guy has a rather narrow collection of friends.

Yes, there are, in fact, lots of people “hopping mad” about Obama. And, yes, this current spate of “scandals” could do great and lasting political harm to him. But, as I’ve noted on several recent occasions, there’s not yet any blood in the water. Obama’s still more popular than not.

I base that assessment on my reading of polls, not on the opinions of my friends. Most, thought not all, of my friends are liberals. I’m not going to interpret their collective sense of the situation as representative of the populace in general. That’s a lesson I learned long ago, as noted above.

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