The Plank

Flip-flops: As American As Apple Pie

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New numbers from CNN reveal that Americans think both Barack Obama and John McCain are flip-floppers -- but like them just fine anyway:

Sixty-one
percent of voters believe that McCain has changed his mind for
political reasons; 37 percent do not. Fifty-nine percent of voters
believe that Obama also shifts positions with the political winds; 38
percent do not.That's a change from 2004, according to Holland.
“One of the reasons President Bush won reelection in 2004 was that only
one-third of voters believed he would change his policy positions
because of changing political dynamics. Most voters, on the other hand,
believed that John Kerry was a flip-flopper.”

I'm
moderately surprised that McCain's number is as high as it is, since
the media has tended not to highlight his flip-flops. I'm not one of
those people, by the way, that thinks the media is constantly biased in
John McCain's direction. I think Obama gets more of the bad from the
media, but also more of the good.But in any event, this underscores one of the points I had made before:
John McCain is not seen as having the higher ground on the flip-flops
issue in the same way that George W. Bush was. Nor is it clear that
being labeled as a flip-flopper is necessarily some kind of death-knell
for Obama (or McCain for that matter): both candidates were regarded
favorably in this poll overall.That's not to say there isn't
any danger on this point to Barack Obama. I think his flip-flop numbers
will go up some, and I think that might harm his approval numbers by a
point or two. On balance, however, I tend to side with Noam Schieber:
John Kerry's problem wasn't that people saw him as a flip-flopper, it's
that people saw him as sort of a poseur. Likewise, with Mitt Romney,
the flip-flop label really stuck in the primaries -- partly because
Romney has changed his positioning on a lot of issues (there's a
fascinating argument that Romney could have won the primaries if he'd
run as a competent, moderate reformer) -- but also because people just
don't like the guy.Another difference with John Kerry is that
he committed a gaffe that compounded his reputation for flip-flopping:
namely, by saying the words "I actually did vote for the $87 billion
before I voted against it". A flip-flop is not
a gaffe; it is the opposite of a gaffe, something done intentionally
with an eye toward improving one's electoral standing. But Kerry's
sloppy phrasing was a gaffe, and one of the more damaging utterances
since "Read My Lips: No New Taxes".Finally, Kerry's alleged
flip-flop on the Iraq War was not toward the center, but toward the
left. It's harder to criticize a candidate when they're taking on a
position that is more in line with your own. Moreover, it appeared as
though Kerry had been opportunistic twice over: first in voting for the
war in the first place, when most of the mainline liberals in the
Senate hadn't --and then by reversing his position later on.

--Nate Silver 

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