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Ask a Bad Question, You’ll Get a Bad Answer

Then there is the question of when an attitude becomes so strong and salient that it changes an anticipated behavior.

For example, a voter could say he is less likely to vote for Obama if the president doesnít come out strongly for gay marriage, yet still vote for him when the election rolls around even if Obama doesnít meet that test, because for most people vote choices are about more than one issue or one opinion.

But most important, the current political context and the one that will exist when the next election takes place will be dramatically different, making the responses to the Scott poll question virtually meaningless.

In this poll, PPP asked about Scottís effect immediately after a series of ballot tests and favorable/unfavorable ratings, so that respondents at the other end of the telephone had only Scott and possibly a few other political names on their minds. That was the entire context of their thinking and of their responses.

They werenít asked about issues, the economy or anything else that might color their thinking about the 2012 presidential race when they actually have to cast a ballot.

By late October 2012, voters will have been inundated with information about Obama and the Republican nominee, as well as articles and ads about a variety of national issues and candidate qualities ó whether itís Medicare and Republican Rep. Paul Ryanís (Wis.) budget, jobs, the economy, the killing of Osama bin Laden, Big Oil or taxes and spending.

After debates, national conventions, millions of dollars of TV spots and weeks of nonstop news coverage about the candidates, voters will go to the polls to pick the nationís next leader. When they do so, Scott will constitute only a microscopic part of their information as they consider their vote for president. He certainly wonít be nearly as salient as he was in the June PPP survey, even if Democrats spend millions of dollars in Florida to try to make the presidential election about Scott.

Pollsters always emphasize that surveys are mere snapshots. Respondents can only answer the questions asked, no matter how meaningless they are. This PPP survey question is of little use in predicting voter motivation in November 2012.

I donít know who will carry the Sunshine State in the 2012 election. But to argue that the Florida governor will cost the Republicans the state in 2012 is to argue that Scott will be more important than the presidential candidates, the issues and all of the media coverage surrounding the contest. If you believe that, you donít understand campaigns and elections.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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