Alaskan Senator: Popular or not?


In an article in the December 20 Washington Post, reporter Shailagh Murray writes, "[M]any Alaskans take a practical view of [Sen. Ted] Stevens. 'I would not say he's the most popular person in Alaska,' said Gerald McBeath, a professor of political science at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. 'But people are aware of the seniority system and its benefits. It's a very healthy contribution that we receive from the federal government.'"

Reporters are not supposed to put their own personal estimates of a politician's popularity into their articles. So they often quote supposed experts, like this in-state political scientist. But anyone with an acquaintance of political scientists knows that most of them are not particularly expert on local politics. Few politicians would pay them as political consultants. McBeath does appear to have written on Alaska state politics, and so he is probably a better choice as a commentator here than many political scientists would be. Still, his estimate seems faulty to me.

"I would not say he's the most popular person in Alaska." Well, how does he fare in the political marketplace? Here's the take in the Almanac of American Politics 2006, of which I'm the principal coauthor.

"Stevens has been re-elected easily. In the August 1996 Republican primary, a banker and former legislator spent $1.3 million of his own money and charged Stevens was insufficiently conservative. Stevens won 59 percent to 27 percent. His Democratic opponent that year blamed Stevens for her husband's failure to pass the Alaska bar on 22 separate tries; even Democratic Governor Tony Knowles announced he was voting for Stevens, who won 77 percent to 13 percent. In November 2002 his Democratic opponent, a denizen of the hip town of Homer, charged that Stevens was part of a government conspiracy to keep him under constant surveillance. Stevens was re-elected [by a] 78 percent to 11 percent margin, carrying all but three precincts." I'd say that these election results are pretty strong evidence that Stevens is among the most popular people in Alaska.