Pollster Rasmussen criticizes Republican discourse

Scott Rasmussen, co-founder of ESPN and founder of Rasmussen Reports, discussed political dynamics in Linsly-Chittenden Hall.
Scott Rasmussen, co-founder of ESPN and founder of Rasmussen Reports, discussed political dynamics in Linsly-Chittenden Hall. Photo by Wai Lu.

At a talk in Linsly-Chittenden Hall Thursday, Scott Rasmussen, co-founder of ESPN who later became involved in politics and founded the political polling company Rasmussen Reports, declared that the national political discourse surrounding the Republican Party’s failed 2012 campaign is “irrelevant and a total waste of time.”

Rasmussen delivered his theories about upcoming political dynamics and his perspective on the 2012 election in a lecture titled “Conservatism and Changing Dynamics,” sponsored by the William F. Buckley Jr. Program. Although Rasmussen arrived 30 minutes late due to transportation issues to New Haven, about 40 members of the Yale community listened to Rasmussen’s lecture and asked for his thoughts on potential presidential contenders in the 2016 election. Rasmussen instructed students that the economy and an incumbent’s job approval serve as the most important factors in determining election results.

“Barack Obama won because the economy did just well enough to get him reelected,” Rasmussen said, explaining the way Obama’s approval ratings tracked the state of the economy.

Although much of the current conversation about the future of the Republican Party focuses on its ability to reach out to minority voters, Rasmussen said he does not think minority outreach, while important, will be a definitive factor in the 2016 election.

Rasmussen said he thinks the GOP needs to find a way to make the argument that all Republican policies, such as education, benefit minority communities, rather than labeling certain policies, such as immigration, as crucial to the success of the party in future years.

Much of Rasmussen’s insight extended beyond party lines.

“I believe all the obsession about candidates and tactics is pretty misguided,” he said. “[A candidate has] to have a compelling message … that is uplifting and positive and consistent.”

The former pollster also explained his recent decision to leave his polling organization and establish a new, albeit related, company: Rasmussen Media Group.

Conceding that he sees a huge business opportunity in the digital media environment, Rasmussen said he is tired of being a scorekeeper.

“I have a bigger vision of what I’d like to be doing,” he said. “I’d like to be involved in actually empowering public opinion rather than just reporting on what’s been happening.”

Comparing the political environment to the interlude between World War I and World War II, Rasmussen suggested that the 2012 election was like trench warfare in World War I and that World War II shaped the modern system of centralized government. Currently the U.S. is awaiting a political paradigm shift akin to what occurred during WWII.

Society is now growing much less centralized, Rasmussen argued, suggesting that individuals’ desire to make personal decisions, like how comprehensive a health insurance plan they would like, will ultimately trump the power of any political vehicle.

“A one-size-fits-all government cannot survive in an iPad era,” he said.

The politician or party that can present a coherent message that taps into this shift in public opinion will enjoy a long period of success, Rasmussen said.

In response to audience questions, Rasmussen made a wide variety of electoral claims about the 2016 election: Neither Hillary Clinton nor Chris Christie have a shot at their respective parties’ nominations, he said.

Josh Altman ’17 said he found Rasmussen’s insights to be interesting. He added that he thinks Rasmussen captured the ambiguity of the 2016 presidential field very well.

A self-identified liberal, Altman said he is grateful that the Buckley program brings conservative leaders to campus.

“I’m not at college to hear the same opinions,” he said. “[The Buckley Program] is making sure Yale isn’t only a one-sided experience.”

The William F. Buckley Jr. Program at Yale, founded in 2010, is dedicated to fostering intellectual diversity on campus.

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