Columns » Bob Lancaster

Pine Knot poll

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The results are in from the political season's first presidential poll at the Pine Knot Nursing Home, and President Bush and Sen. John Kerry finished in what the TV announcers like to call a statistical dead heat. I think that means they both lost, and I guess what that means, if this precedent holds, is that the Supreme Court will step in again and declare the president re-elected. I wouldn't read too much into the Pine Knot poll, however. It has some peculiarities and variables that would've had Mr. Gallup or Mr. Pew swallowing their cigars. I mean, plus or minus 30 percent is dead in the middle of this poll's range. Maybe 40 percent. The problem, from the point of view of the poll's reliability, is that Pine Knot residents seldom get an opportunity to get their political licks in, and most of them aren't content simply to mark their X's in the appropriate ballot squares. They want to editorialize in the margins. They would make full speeches in there if they could. And so the chief Pine Knot pollster, a Mr. Crump, has to take some liberties in his tallying. For instance, in this particular poll he counted "Anything would beat what we've got now" as a vote for Kerry. And "100 percent against Mr. Face Is Too Long" as a vote for Bush. Each candidate wound up with 84 votes or "near votes." Ralph Nader, the independent, didn't get any votes. But write-in votes were duly posted for several politicalfigures who might or might not be running for president. "I wouldn't mind Abraham Lincoln's wife or daughter or whatever she is getting it," was counted as the one and only vote for Sen. Blanche Lincoln. I liked this one: "Old Pryor is always running for something so give me a good seat on his bandwagon with my feet dangling off the side." Should it go to Sen. Mark Pryor or his dad? Mr. Crump mulled it, slept on it, and decided to give it to David Pryor on grounds that no Pine Knotter in his or her right mind (itself a delicate and ponderable factor here) would refer to a whippersnapper senator as "old." Maybe ol' or ole, but then again Mark Pryor is a long ways yet from either of those. In a footnote, the meticulous Mr. Crump said: "To satisfy myself that she did indeed mean the elder Pryor, I visited the voter in her room and was told the following: 'I don't have time for that foolishness, Doyle. My bladder's fallen out. And I'd thank you to knock before barging in here like this.' " Pollster Crump seems to have made every effort to determine the Pine Knotters' true presidential preferences, and he excluded only 37 votes, most of them by residents who thought they were voting in the American Idol or Survivor competitions on network TV. One added this editorial comment to her ballot: "That boy can belt out a tune better than anybody since Gomer Pyle." Before throwing out that ballot, Mr. Crump tried to justify giving the vote to the president or to Sen. Kerry by imagining each of them on the karaoke stage doing "O! My Papa!" in the tender and touching Jim Nabors style. But they were equally, inseparably unpersuasive - "dreadful" is a word that Mr. Crump would only imply - and the matter soon became just too depressing. He further considered giving the vote to Ralph Nader, just so he would have one, but the idea of Ralph Nader singing "O! My Papa!" in the immortal Jim Nabors style was even more depressing. It would have made a mockery of the whole poll, Mr. Crump thought. So Mr. Crump threw out that ballot, and others. Here are some of the others he threw out: "Whichever one of them does a better job than Mildred does of answering this buzzer when I call." "The one that would get us some fried chicken in here once in a while instead of just more mush and Jell-o." "If either one of them has a dog, I vote for the other one. Reason: It was some old dogs that killed Pumpkin." Now I wouldn't want to belittle those issues; they involve choices that deserve careful consideration; but they are out of place in a presidential poll. They can become a distraction. I'm not saying presidential polls are more important than the Pine Knot menu or the relative efficiency of the attendants there. On the contrary, I'm pretty sure which questions would interest me most if my young'uns were to do me the honor of stashing me there. I saw only one obvious vote-counting error in the poll results. One Pine Knotter did indeed X the George Bush square but then tried to erase it and wrote in the margin: "Him and Arp screwed us on Rx drugs and will burn in hell for it." Mr. Crump put this one in the Bush column; I thought at the least it should be ruled hanging chad. The poll results and much of the accompanying information first appeared in the Pine Knot Pine Knot, the residents' in-house newsletter. A Mrs. Coogler is listed as editress.

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