Political highways

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 30, 2004

You may have reacted differently, but I was absolutely shocked to read that colleague Keith Hoggard has endorsed Senator John Kerry for President.

Who would have guessed, after all those months of fair and balanced editorializing over President Bush’s performance that Hoggard would end of picking Kerry as his candidate?

Hoggard’s impassioned prose portrayed his pique at the present president for so many consecutive appearances people were accurately quoting his NEXT column.

In this paper’s area of influence, a Republican presidential candidate couldn’t get the most votes if he handed out hundred dollar bills at the polling booth, so it’s a safe call for Hoggard.

Kerry’s win in our neighborhood is a forgone conclusion, as are the victories of Robert Holloman and Dupont Davis, both running unopposed (at least on the ballot).

We’ll get both for another term which means, if the past is an indicator, interesting reporting for the New Herald in the months ahead.

In these days of overwhelming news coverage of national elections, polling has become the opiate of choice for all the players.

Every player on the scene commissions a poll and pollsters, when an election is a close as this one appears to be, have learned how to present results that satisfy anybody who hires them.

Just last night I watched a cable news analyst survey all the highly contested states, presenting a scorecard of polls.

&uot;In Ohio, three polls show Kerry ahead; one poll shows Bush leading.

In North Carolina, two polls put Bush ahead, none show Kerry leading.

In New Jersey, three polls are too close to call.&uot;

On it went, through all the close states, following which

I wanted to know who paid for all these polls, what methodology was used in selecting respondents, and why have I been called four times by a group called Citizens for a Better Senate?

When I starting saying, &uot;Look, I’ve already voted,&uot; they hung up faster than I could.

Up in Minnesota, some citizens are so upset with polling results of the Minneapolis Star Tribune they’ve started picketing the newspaper building.

Pounding on windows, they shout &uot;Star and Sickle&uot; and that ugly epitaph &uot;Liberal!&uot;

The demonstrators are irate because the liberal newspaper’s pollster is computing results showing Kerry with a commanding lead, while two other statewide polls show a dead heat or Kerry with a narrow lead.

They believe the results are being deliberately skewed to favor Democrat candidates, by managing the selection of respondents.

On the other side of the political coin, that paragon of fairness and journalistic morals, Michael Moore, he of &uot;Fahrenheit 911&uot; defamation, pulls no punches in his slug fest approach to commentary.

&uot;The polls are wrong.&uot; he spews. &uot;They are all over the map like diarrhea.

You are being snookered if you believe any of these polls.&uot;

I saw a diarrhea covered map only once, when my mother was changing a diaper on the front seat, as we sped down a two lane road somewhere south of Tallahassee, about 50 years ago.

It wasn’t a pretty sight and afterwards, most of the Gulf of Mexico was forever desert tan.

According to Richard Morin, writing in The Washington Post, &uot;To their most vociferous critics, pollsters have become the puppet masters of American politics.

In this formulation, politicians stick wet fingers into the wind of public opinion before they act on matters large and small.&uot;

Washington wags called Clinton &uot;poll intoxicated&uot; as he and his staff consulted polls for the most trivial decisions.

Dick Morris, pollster for President Clinton, tells the story that in 1995 after interviewing 10,000 Americans, he concluded that camping was the favored presidential vacation among married couples with children, a key group Clinton needed to win reelection.

On hearing the news, Bill and Hill promptly canceled their plans for a family trip to Martha’s Vineyard and redirected to the Grand Tetons, where they were grinningly captured on film, enraptured with their family camping trip.

After being reelected, the Martha’s Vineyard vacations resumed.

Arianna Huffington, no booster of polls, writes in her syndicated column, &uot;Pollsters conduct their increasingly inaccurate polls; the media then report the results as if Moses has just brought them down from the mountaintop; and our politicians tailor their messages to suit phantom voters.

Relying on polls is so much easier than actually reporting or leading.&uot;

There’s only one problem with Moore’s venom and Huffington’s protestation:

it appears they’re wrong.

According to Morin’s research, &uot;pre-election polls in 2000 were the most accurate in nearly three decades.

Pollsters point to data showing that in 2002, nearly 9 out of 10 candidates who were ahead in surveys conducted immediately before the election ended up winning, with the overwhelming majority of these polls coming within 3 percentage points of the winner’s victory margin.&uot;