• Governor Blagojevich speaks a lot about ethics. He's fired some entrenched Republicans, hired a top-notch inspector general, forced state workers into ethics-sensitivity training. People eat that stuff up. Never mind that the media continues to miss the story about the sort of influence-peddlers who surround the governor and advise him on many of his important decisions - such as appointing utility-friendly people to the Illinois Commerce Commission, or putting their business cronies into top agency positions.
• The governor has said repeatedly that he would veto any bill that increases the sales or income tax. Bingo. That's the stuff dreams are made of when it comes to polls. But in the process he's borrowing his way out of the $5-billion budgetary hole, relying way too heavily on one-time "gimmicks," and masking a $713-million spending increase with a couple of phantom cuts. And, there's no way the legislature would pass a tax hike without the governor's assent anyhow.
• Blagojevich has trumpeted his education plan at every opportunity, which he claims gives schools an extra $250 per pupil. That goes down particularly well with the all-important suburban-women demographic. But he doesn't mention that lots of schools won't see a dime of that dough (many of them suburban) and that at least a quarter, and as many as half, will actually lose money on the deal.
As long as his manufactured message breaks through the clutter, the governor's happy. And at that, he's been remarkably successful.
And so this brings us to last week, when the governor announced he had commissioned a poll and discovered that 84 percent of Illinoisans strongly support his proposed budget. The poll also contained results that were supposed to frighten recalcitrant legislators into backing his plan.
But the poll was most likely designed specifically to create another positive press pop for the governor.
Why would I dare suggest that the governor's poll was purely a spin device? Well, look at the thing. The poll was blatantly designed to produce the results the governor wanted. When asked, for instance, if they agreed with the guv's budget ideas or with "the same people who helped create the crisis the state now faces and represent the failed politics of the past," an overwhelming number said, "I'm with the governor." Duh.
The survey, if you can call it that, is chock full of those sorts of loaded questions. It's absolutely worthless, both scientifically and legislatively. No legislator will switch his or her vote based on the poll's results because the questions are so deliberately biased that the answers, and therefore the threat of retaliation, are completely without merit.
And, in the end, there's no need for any legislative fear even if all of the poll's answers give us an accurate description of the current climate - and they don't, of course.
When asked whether they would be more or less likely to vote for their state legislator if he or she votes against the governor's budget plan, 51 percent answered "less likely."
As I've written time and time again, it's very difficult to "move" voters if polling shows anything less than 70 percent support for, or opposition to, an issue. Actually, the optimum is 80 percent, but that result is more rare than it used to be. Without a high degree of support or opposition, the issue almost assuredly won't factor into real voting behavior.
So, if 51 percent of voters, statewide, say they'd be less likely to vote for state Senator Whatshisname if he votes "no" on the budget, Whatshisname has almost nothing to worry about. It's just not enough to make a difference come Election Day - which, remember, is well over a year away (and a lot more than that for some Republican senators with four-year terms). And, it's likely that the mood is a lot less pro-Blago-budget in Republican-dominated House and Senate districts.
This was an all-too-typical Blagojevich stunt. Almost devoid of real meaning, but full of spin and symbolism, and promoted, by the way, via a five-city "barnstorming" tour. This guy is good. Very good. At campaigning.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at (http://www.capitolfax.com).