James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Forget the polls, get out the vote

There’s been much jawing about political polls the past week or so.

I’ve received several emails from folks who believe this poll or that is tainted. Ronny Eibensteiner (he’s so childish sometimes I feel compelled to use the diminutive), chair of the Minnesota Republican Party, demanded that the Minneapolis Star Tribune fire Rob Daves, long-time director of its Minnesota Poll, BEFORE its new presidential preference survey was released.

Of course Eibensteiner had some advance knowledge of the fact that the new poll numbers show John Kerry ahead of G.W. Bush by 9 percentage points in Minnesota. And of course some good little Republicans immediately followed Ronny’s lead before the numbers were published and wrote letters to the editor decrying the "consistently inaccurate" Minnesota Poll.

In fact, the Minnesota Poll is one of the more accurate such enterprises in the country and Daves, with whom I worked a few times, providing the text and background for poll results, is a man of unfailing integrity. However, the Big Lie has become the Republican Party’s preferred campaign tool, and lies about a poll it cannot control were to be expected.

And, also in fact, the GOP method does intimidate our mostly gutless political journalists and their editors. The main headline when the Minnesota Poll was published said, "Bush inches up on Kerry," although the 9 percent Kerry lead in a supposedly "battleground state" was the real news.

It’s more than likely that some polls are tainted. Some pollsters do lean – sometimes clear to the ground – toward one side or the other. Most of the leaners are right leaners. But with a very few exceptions they don’t blatantly lie. It’s not terribly difficult to get the results you want by shading the questions you ask and carefully picking those who are asked. If a large majority of the people you contact in a political poll live in outer ring suburbs where most houses sit on three-acre lots, you’re going to get results that favor the nominal president and other Republicans. Usually, the shading is more subtle than that, but that basically is how it’s done.

A Web site operated by someone named Ruy Teixiera, www.emergingdemocraticmajorityweblog.com, recently carried a piece maintaining that the Gallup Poll's "internal" numbers showed that Kerry actually has a very slim lead among voters in the battleground states and that the Democrat gained more than Bush in those states after the Republican convention. The site also maintains that the Gallup's real numbers show Kerry ahead among independent voters.

Truthout.Org also uses the Gallup numbers to claim that the Bush post-convention "bounce" was only two points, considerably less than shown in the widely-quoted Time and Newsweek

Those two Web reports probably are more accurate that those showing Bush making a big gain since his bile-fueled convention.

Still, my advice to those who are upset about the polls is, don’t get your knickers in a knot. It looks like the polls means less this year than ever before because people are paying less attention to them than they have in the past.

In the same vein, I’d stop fussing over that supposed bunch of "undecided voters" the news outlets keep talking about and the political parties keeping chasing. I wish I could slap Kerry upside the head and make him realize, as Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, Molly Ivins and a bunch of other smart people have said, that he needs to go on the attack. He needs to nail Bush and party to the wall for their crimes and horrendous miscalculations. He doesn’t need to pussyfoot, as his party-hack advisers demand, to appeal to that very small bunch of wishy-washies.

Who do you know who’s undecided about this presidential campaign?

I just spent four days wandering around rural and small-town southwestern Wisconsin. That’s supposedly Bush country this year and, truth is, the farmers seem to lean to Bush, judging by the number and size of the campaign signs on their fences. But in the towns, even the smallest towns, there also is considerable support for Kerry.

Given the wide gap between the two presidential candidates on almost every subject, it’s hard to see how there can be much of an undecided crowd left. And, in fact, in watching, listening, questioning, I don’t find anyone who lacks a strong preference.

If you really care about the outcome of the election, I don’t think you need to waste a whole lot of time worrying about polls or searching for and trying to sway the opinions of the undecided – other than the occasional traditional Republican who is sickened by some of the policies of Bush & Co. What we liberals need to do is see to it that those who favor Kerry are registered and that they get their tails to the polls in November. We can’t let anyone get away with the old, "One vote doesn’t count" copout.

In Minnesota, we have a secretary of state, Mary Kiffmeyer, who is trying to play the Florida game, albeit a bit more subtly. A determined right winger and Bush campaigner, she’s doing what she can to discourage the votes of the poor, minorities, the elderly. She’d be crucified if she was as blatant as Southern right wingers in her efforts to control who votes, of course, but she is having some effect. I haven’t heard much from elsewhere, but I suspect the same thing is happening in other states controlled by the New Republicans.

But whether it is or not, there’s no question that this year’s election could be another close call. Liberals can oust Bush if we all work to see that everyone we can reach is legally registered – well ahead of election day in order to avoid any attempts to throw up roadblocks – and that people get to their polling stations.

The best thing you can do is to identify one potential voter – more is better – who also is a bit of a slacker and see to it that she or he votes.