As so many follow "the opinion polls" in New Hampshire, keep this in mind: They don't measure opinion. The tracking question being continuously asked is some minor varient of "If the election were held today, for whom would you vote?" This false hypothetical of a question compels voters to pick the candidate who they think is the strategic choice to beat President Obama, not the one they most want to be president.
The question as framed doubles down on the restrictions our electoral system imposes on citizens rather than freeing them from them. That is, the primary voters could want a candidate but we might not know it since they are not asked who they actually want for president, only who they would vote for in the primary; but they are not voting with who the necessarily want, but who they think -- think -- will beat Obama.
The process during the primaries is largely focused around the voters of one of the establishment party being guided by the media to back a candidate who ostensibly has the best chance of beating the candidate of the other establishment party. A recent Zogby poll found that nearly 50 percent of Republican New Hampshire primary voters would rather vote for someone who "shares some views but can beat Obama" as opposed to only 40 percent of those who would vote for someone who more more strongly "shares views [but] not strong vs. Obama."
But who is to say who would be a stronger candidate? Mitt Romney is frequently described as the Republican who would be most formidable to Obama in a general election and Ron Paul is frequently dismissed as unelectable, but Paul is probably the Republican best positioned to reach out to independents and Democrats.
Consider what a farcical exercise it was the last time we went through a primarily process with a sitting U.S. president on the other side of the two-party duopoly:
In 2004, Democratic voters were told over and over by the media that candidates like Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean were unelectable. This despite the fact that Kucinich consistently got the greatest applause in Democratic debates (when he wasn't excluded from them); but he got preciously few votes because he was deemed to be "unelectable" -- presumably because most every independent and Republican voter was a fire breathing pro-war corporatist. Endlessly played video of "The Dean Scream" effectively ended his candidacy. The media conventional wisdom was the John Kerry was somehow "electable" -- because he had "experience" -- never mind that part of that experience included voting for granting George W. Bush authorization to attack Iraq. So the Democratic Party ended up with a candidate who wound up saying it was "for the war before he was against it" and other inspiring statements.
And the drive to have someone who is "electable" often trumps everything else. So actual ideas about war, the economy, jobs, society, families and whose policies people actually agree with all get sidelined. The endless horse race coverage not only eats up media time, it eats up viewers' brains -- turning citizens into pundits.
James Zobgy at a news conference last week wondered if we were not actually seeing with the success of Ron Paul in Iowa the "birth of a third party" -- especially since Paul had such success with young people who would likely not back any other Republican candidate (with the exception of Gary Johnson, who has been totally marginalized) and that so many of these young people were jaded with Obama.
The compulsion to vote for electablity rather than actual belief in the ideas being expressed by a candidate in the primary season does not end as we enter the general election. Rather, it morphs into something perhaps even more insidious: lesser-evilism. Millions and millions vote in election after election for the Democratic candidate not because they afirmatively agree with them, but because they are driven by fear of the Republican. And millions more do the exact same thing in the opposite direction. They all cancel out each others votes. Many of these people would find they actually agree with third party and independent candidates from the Green, Socialist, Libertarian or Constitution Parties. But most of them don't even consider voting for them because they feel an over riding compulsion to stop the other major party at all cost, driven by a heard and brain-freezing fear. Add to the tragic farce that many of these people know each other, but effectively nullify their friends votes because they hate the candidate their friend is settling upon.
And similarly, the polls during the general election extenuate the problem rather than allieviating it. It's even concevable that there could be a third party or independent candidate in a general election who would have majority support and we may not even know it, since everyone focuses around the question "if the election were held today, which of the candidats would you vote for" and the public -- unaware that a anti-establishment candidate -- someone who is opposted to the wars and Wall Street bailouts and corporate influence that the establishments of both major political parties have embrased and occasionally deride each other for -- could have majority support.
A simple suggestion for a test as to who people actually want: "The following candidates are all tied for the presidency. You have the deciding vote. Who would you cast that deciding vote for?" Such a question would get to who people actually want, like and perhaps even love, rather than grinding the public through a process of guessing and spinning and polling and pundifying as to who is in the best position to beat a candidate you presumably hate.