When Will Salon Publish a Piece Calling on Heath Shuler to Primary Obama?

Because I enjoy dissecting bad arguments, especially if they include bad historical analogies, I intend to write some more about Matt Stoller’s fantasy of Democratic discontent leading to a primary challenge to Barack Obama. Until then, this covers some of the main problems with Stoller’s piece. But I also want to challenge a basic assumption underlying the stance of most of the discontented online progressives and that runs through Stoller’s piece.

Stoller et al regularly argue from the assumption that Democrats are demoralized because Barack Obama is supposedly too conservative. While there are Democrats who think Obama is too conservative, the claim that there’s a mass of disaffection that creates the need for a primary challenge to Obama is contradicted by what so often contradicts claims advanced with hyperbole and certitude: data. Yes, data shows that a not insignificant percentage of Democrats believe Barack Obama is too conservative. But a huge majority think he’s neither too liberal nor too conservative, and the percentage of Democrats who believe he’s too conservative is matched by an equal percentage of Democrats who think he’s too liberal.

From the most recent PPP national poll for Daily Kos and SEIU:

These results are consistent not only with other recent polls by PPP, but also with polls from June, from May, from April and from back in March when PPP started its partnership with Daily Kos and SEIU. The results among Democrats have been remarkably stable.

Contrary to what Stoller may claim, the bloc of Democrats who believe Obama is too conservative is far too small to support a viable challenge to Obama from the left. (Even among liberals–who are only about 40% of the Democratic electorate–fewer than 30% believe Obama is too conservative.) The primary problem for Obama’s election prospects isn’t that Democrats would support a primary challenge. If a case could be made for a Dem primary challenge from the left, it could just as soundly be argued that Heath Shuler should challenge him from the right.

Obama’s biggest problem with the electorate is that self-identified independents have gone from being split on whether he’s too liberal or about right to fairly consistently concluding he’s too liberal. In March independents favored about right over too liberal 47% to 38%. In the August 25th poll shown above, the results had more than reversed, with only 37% of independents saying he’s about right but 53% saying he’s too liberal.

Talking up a challenge to Obama from the left may get a website plenty of hits and it surely gets attention for those eager to lay out the case that Barack Obama is really just George W Bush with a better jump shot and a lower bowling average. Such theorizing may be an interesting mental exercise, but it’s about as relevant to the real world as is calculating how many non-existent primary challengers can dance on the head of a pin.

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