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Saturday, October 30, 2004

Deep breathing needed for polls, scientific or not...

Despite their heinous endorsement of GWB and their silly registration requirement to view their pages on the web, the Chicago Tribune remains one of my very favourite newspapers! (and this is despite not seeing a hard copy of it in years...) Many a lazy Sunday was spent on the Trib... The comics were classic! (and the rest taught me about the world I lived in...)

So, because they'll make you register to see this, I'll repost the whole thing! I liked it and I hope you will too...

Deep breathing needed for polls, scientific or not

by Mary Schumich

Published October 29, 2004

It's hard to be a pollster.

There are too many people who can't be reached because they use cell phones. Too many home-phone owners with caller ID who won't even pick up. Some who pick up and then blast a police whistle in the pollster's ear thinking he's a telemarketer.

But here's the toughest part. It's asking, "Which presidential candidate will you vote for?" and not shrieking at the respondent, "Are you @#$% nuts?"

I know this because I've been conducting my own poll. My survey has spanned the nation, beginning in a place where the world converges:

A Chicago cab.

"Who are you voting for?" I asked the driver, who said he had come to the U.S. from India 23 years ago. He sighed.

It was an early sign of what I would soon recognize as a trend: 76 percent of likely voters sigh when answering this question.

"John Kerry," the cabbie said.

Four years ago, the cabbie voted for George Bush. Then he lost his job as a software engineer at US Robotics. In his new career, he said, he watches as more and more educated people wind up behind a taxi steering wheel. It used to be mostly Pakistanis and Nigerians who drove cabs, he said. Now? It's everybody.

The cabbie said he had supported Bush on invading Iraq. Now? The war had gone on too long, was making the world more dangerous. So, like most of the cabbies he knows, he'll punch for Kerry Tuesday.

I refrained from saying, "Excellent!" because in my role as pollster, I must remain as neutral as Switzerland.

I took my poll to Arizona.

In the old days, when I was in high school there, trying to ferret out a Democrat in Arizona was like looking for an ocean. This week, too, voters seem to favor the Republican. But the governor's a Democrat, the swelling Hispanic population trends Democratic, and so there must be an iota of a chance that a few of my Republican high-school friends have tilted left.

I polled one.

"Sigh," she e-mailed back. "Okay, I'm still voting for Bush. With many, many qualifiers. I'm not happy with the conduct of the war, but not willing to trust Kerry on war or economics. Would probably lean more libertarian if it weren't for all the social injustice in the world. But basically, I'm pretty sick to death of demagoguery and ideologues on both sides."

I refrained from saying, "@#$%." I was a pollster, after all, and as neutral as Switzerland.

Next, I took my polling skills to Pennsylvania.

"Who are you voting for?" I e-mailed my nephew, a fresh NYU graduate living in Pittsburgh. "I'm not here to debate. I'm just surveying."

"Bush," he wrote back.

Neutral. As. Deep inhale, full exhale. Switzerland.

"Bush," he went on, " has been very disappointing in a handful of areas (spending and the marriage amendment in particular, though the latter strikes me as mere rhetoric), but Kerry's espoused positions seem to offer either no real change or even worse consequences. Furthermore, on what is perhaps the all-consuming issue of the day--the war on terrorism--Kerry just does not get it."

I was practicing advanced yoga breathing techniques and chanting "Neutral as Switzerland," when more stats arrived, from Colorado.

A sister-in-law e-mailed that she and my brother were about to plant a Kerry lawn sign.

However, she had just driven her 89-year-old neighbor to mail an absentee ballot. For Bush.

Finally, I took my poll back to Chicago, to the corner dry cleaner, a Korean immigrant.

"Bushie," she said.

Neutral, neutral, Switzerland.

"He's familiar," she said when I asked why. "Friendly face."

But she's not eligible to vote, she added. I was watching the sun shining on the Swiss Alps when she pointed past the clothes racks toward a colleague. "Do you know who she wants?"

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself, I told myself, as I grimaced and asked, "Who?"

She said, "Clinton."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the nation in a nutshell.

This poll is guaranteed to be as reliable as any other in predicting which poor guy will inherit the mess next week.

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