I’ve debated about posting this. I’ve generally tried to steer away from politics and focus on concrete facts and defensible data when posting to the blogosphere. I’ve generally saved any liberal rants of mine for letters to the editor of the local newspaper.
My last screed to the editor questioned whether it was ethical for Governor Palin to collect per diem from the state while living at home in Wasilla. The issue was somewhat personal to me. When I started working for the state I was living more than 50 miles away from my designated duty station, and worked out of my house. In terms of per diem, that put me in the same category as the governor, except that I was up-front and honest when I was hired and said that I would be working out of my house.
As a condition of employment I signed an agreement with the state that I would not receive per diem for the time that I worked at home, even though I was entitled to it under the state travel manual. It was a standard agreement that anybody in my situation was required to sign. So I have some heartburn with a governor that moves her office after the fact and then collects money from the state for failing to be up front about where she intended to work.
Anyway, that letter brought the first anonymous crank call that I can ever remember getting. I’ve had callers that disagreed with me on some of my other letters, but those exchanges were civil, non-anonymous, and occasionally quite thought-provoking (a long telephone discussion with Senator Wilken comes to mind). What was it about Governor Palin that rallied such vitriolic defense of any impugnment of her name?
The polling of Alaska residents by the Hays Research Group may provide some answers. They have been conducting polls of Palin’s popularity periodically since early 2007. Graphing the results provides some interesting analysis.
From the first poll in March of 2007 until October 2008, the vast majority of Alaskans thought Palin was either “great” (very positive) or “OK” (somewhat positive). Any change in one of those groups was pretty much mirrored by a change in the other group. The small number of folks that thought she was “not good” (somewhat negative) or “bad” (very negative) pretty much chugged along without much change through most of 2007 and 2008, with some increase in the number of folks who thought she was “not good” as 2008 went along.
Then the national spotlight hit. For any number of reasons (pick your top five, yours are as good as mine), the number of folks who thought she was “OK” plummeted, with a corresponding rise in the number who thought she was “bad”.
We’re now at the point where roughly 35-45% think she’s “great” and 16-26% think she’s “bad” (the polls have an error rate of +/- 4.9%). The net result of last fall’s spotlight is that Alaskans are now very polarized about our governor. Only 1/3 of us are anywhere near ambivalent about her. 2/3 of us think that she either the best thing since President Reagan or is a vindictive airhead.