COMMENTARY | Despite what candidates say, when they are behind, polls matter to them and their campaigns. They matter to their supporters as well, especially those willing to lend financial support. And though there will undoubtedly be sounds of dismissal for falling poll numbers like those in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, presidential hopeful Herman Cain, besieged by the scandal of allegations of sexual harassment while the president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association (NRA), now faces the very real possibility that his time in the nomination race limelight is over. He could soon become just another “flavor of the week” relegated to the bottom tier of presidential candidates from whence he originally came.
The ABC News/Washington Post poll is one of two surveys taken exclusively since news of the sexual harassment charges brought against Cain in the late ’90s were revealed by Politico. Indicative of what just might be at stake is that Cain’s support seems to be trending toward a drop in support since Cain peaked with the release of the Quinnipiac Poll, which showed a 7-percentage point lead for the Atlanta businessman over former Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney. But a Rasmussen Reports poll taken two days after the sexual harassment scandal started (Oct. 31) revealed only a 3-point lead for the beleaguered Cain. The ABC/Post poll, which was concluded a day after the Rasmussen survey, shows the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO trailing Romney by 2 percentage points.
The results are not good signs for the future of the Cain campaign.
Interpreting a trend from different polls can be problematic in that polls use different methodologies and surveying procedures to gain their results, but subsequent polls and surveys will likely see a continuance of a trend downward in Cain’s support. A scandal tends to have that kind of causal effect on a campaign. The negative publicity and continuous media coverage can be damaging, but whether or not the trend will be sustained becomes the driving question.
In Cain’s case, it appears that the falling numbers could be due to the candidate’s unimpressive handling of the situation. Answering reporters’ questions with no comment or a refusal to comment was soon followed by the candidate revealing he was not aware of details of the sexual harassment charges and cases. But subsequent interviews brought out more detailed explanations of the allegations and Cain’s insistence that he was being falsely accused. Cain’s remarks over just a period of a few days have left him with the appearance of someone attempting to hide something, falsely accused or not. The revelation that the NRA made settlements with the women involved in exchange for silence and a report that the lawyer for one of the women has accused the presidential candidate of lying about the allegations have also added fuel to a growing fire.
The problem for the candidate has been one of believability. He maintains that he was “unaware” of the allegations or any agreement of settlement but gradually begins to give more detailed information about those cases of which he was “unaware.” He says that this was because he was remembering more and more about the decade-old accusations. And his verbal dancing around questions about the sexual harassment allegations themselves, possibly due more to legal constrictions in the non-disclosure agreements than willful attempts at prevarication, only makes him look worse. Additionally, he has gotten bogged down in debating the meaning of “agreement” and “settlement,” either of which paints the NRA as an intermediary that negotiated to have the scandal removed and silenced.
None of it looks good for the presidential candidate. And when a politician begins to lose their luster, their electability takes a hit. Their poll numbers suffer.
Herman Cain’s poll numbers appear to be on the verge of plummeting because of the scandal. Question is: Can Cain do anything to stop it?
If not, Cain will soon find himself hanging out with the other tried and discarded Republican “flavors,” Texas governor Rick Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann. And dismissing polls…