Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Poll Axed

I have always been simultaneously fascinated and appalled by public opinion polls. How could 40% of this country support George Bush? How could even 4%? Are there really that many people who are unable to tie their shoes or open their mouths without drooling?

All my life I’ve longed to have my opinions culled on the state of the economy or the president’s haircut. Gallup, Harris, Zogby, CNN, the Washington Post – it didn’t matter who. But do they call? Noooo.

In fact, I’ve never met anyone who has been called by one of these pollsters. I thought it must all be a game, a grand hoax, like Orson Welles pretending New Jersey had been invaded by Martians.

Then, a couple of hours ago, I got a call from someone saying they were conducting a poll for the CBS Evening News with Bob Schieffer. That’s how he said it. Every time he mentioned where he was calling from he said the whole name, like the primary purpose of the call was to get me to remember this one fact. The guy sounded old but had a TV voice. In fact, he sounded a hell of a lot like Bob Schieffer. I said sure, I’d be happy to help.

First he gathered some demographic information – whether it was a home or a business line, how many adults were in the household, how many men and women, and so on. When he said I’d qualified (on this call he was instructed to find an adult male) I felt a small tingle of excitement. I was being polled! My opinions would finally count for something! Unlike say, my vote.

He began with a passel of questions about W, all of which landed in the “disapprove” bin. He asked about the economy, tax cuts, who was most to blame for high oil prices, immigration and the minute men, what I thought of Bush’s picks for the Supreme Court, the quality of Bush’s appointments, and the Medicare prescription plan. He asked whether we should endure greater deficits to pay for Hurricane Katrina (no) or whether we should pay for it by raising taxes, spending less in Iraq, and delaying the Medicare prescription plan or the recently passed highway bill (yes to all).

He asked if we should get out of Iraq now or stay til the country’s stable. I said get out now, but I’m not 100% sure I believe it. He asked if I thought Saddam was responsible for 9/11 or in league with Al Queda, and whether invading Iraq had made us safer. I was 100% sure about those things. He did not ask how I felt about how our government had lied its way into this war, or if I’d heard of the Downing Street Memos.

He asked if I considered myself Republican, Democrat, Independent, or Other, and who I voted for in 2004. I passed on that one. There’s a reason they put curtains on voting booths. Did I consider myself conservative, moderate, or liberal? None of those are words I’d use to describe myself, but there was no fourth choice.

He asked if I believe in an afterlife, but not if I believe in God. He asked if I attend church (No), and what religion if any I subscribe to (Our Lady of Perpetual Sarcasm). He asked if I believe in evolution, intelligent design, or creationism (though he didn’t use any of those terms). He asked if I thought God and evolution could co-exist (I said yes).

He asked if I believed in ghosts and if I’d ever seen one (yes to both). At this point I began to wonder whether the loony van was about to pull up to my front door.

He asked me how many phones I had, how much money I made (I declined that one), my age, my first name, and if it was ok if a reporter contacted me later. He asked if used the Internet and if I read blogs (but not, sadly, if I wrote one). I volunteered that I wrote one. He didn’t care.

He thanked me for taking part in the CBS Evening News with Bob Schieffer poll, and that if I wanted to hear the results, I could tune in tomorrow night to the CBS News with Bob Schieffer, or log onto the Web site shortly after the CBS Evening News with Bob Schieffer was broadcast. What was the name of that program again? I said. He didn’t laugh. He didn’t laugh or even react to anything I said. I imagined his job must be like a lingering slide into death, asking the same damned questions hour after hour, day after day.

Twenty-six minutes and 35 seconds later, we were through. I don’t think I’ve ever been so thoroughly surveyed, and that includes my last visit to the urologist. I needed a cigarette and a drink.

As Mr. Privacy, I was a bit perturbed at the intrusiveness of the questions. A clever scam artist would have gleaned enough information to figure out exactly who I am (having a public phone number doesn’t help), where I live, and whether I was a tasty chicken ripe for plucking.

But I perservered, because, well, .... I was being polled, dammit. I was going to have an impact on national policy. I was going to drive Bush’s approval ratings into subzero, where they belong. Or at least, nudge them below 40.

And I figured out who responds to polls like this: people who have 26:35 to spare in the heart of the evening, with the dinner dishes sprawled across the kitchen and the kids setting fire to the cat. People with nothing better to do. People with more opinions than brains.

And now, fittingly, I’m one of them. God, it’s great to finally have influence.

ADDENDUM: CBS has now published the results of the poll. On almost every question, what I answered turned out to be the majority answer among the 807 other putative adults surveyed. I guess I'm not such a pinko after all. (Nothing in the results about ghosts, though.)


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