The Trouble with Polls and Focus Groups

THERE IS A LONG-STANDING HOLLYWOOD FANTASY ABOUT HOW to succeed in American politics. From Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to Bulworth, the story is the same: the hero is liberated when he breaks free from political convention and starts speaking from the heart. In the old days, Mr. Smith fought political bosses. Nowadays the bosses are political consultants. Senator Bulworth--in Warren Beatty's 1998 film--is liberated after deciding to commit suicide while watching his re-election ads.

Reality, unfortunately, is stingy with outspoken political heroes. Mavericks tend to lose, even compelling ones like John McCain. There is a reason for that: inconvenient truths...