So I picked up the phone the other day and a woman presuming to be chatty told me she'd like to bother me for just a second with a couple of survey questions.
She appeared to be a live actual person, rather than a robot, and I grumbled “sure.”
So, John, she asked cheerily, did I consider myself a certain or merely probable voter in the forthcoming Democratic primary? Apparently she had benefit of voter information suggesting I'd be going “D” in the primary, though once I went “R.”
I said certain.
Well, then, John, she asked still cheerily, did I intend to cast my vote for U.S. Senate for Blanche Lincoln or Bill Halter?
Here I must tell you what I told her. You deserve to know. I said Lincoln. I did not do so cheerily. It's a bit of nose-holder.
At this point my surveyor identified herself as a representative of some nebulous outfit that favored Halter. Then she set out to enumerate several supposedly sinister assaults by Lincoln on the American worker.
After this litany by which Lincoln was made to seem quite horrible, my cheery surveyor asked if I still intended to vote for Lincoln or whether I might have changed my position to Halter.
“Still for Lincoln, now more than ever,” I said, and hung up.
This is an old tactic apparently becoming more common: Some group with a vested interest in a political race pretends to do an honest poll, but then, having you on the horn, switches the survey into outright direct advocacy for one candidate and harsh assault upon the other, then tries to “push” numbers in its favored direction by re-presenting the choice after it has had its incendiary say against the non-favored candidate.
There are four uses for such information: First, it gives you, via that first open-ended question, an honest idea where you stand. Second, it gives you a chance to attack the opposition in a way different from the television advertising that is more expensive and that people may be tuning out. Third, it gives you an idea of the effectiveness of the smears you have in mind against the other candidate. Fourth, via that encore presentation of the choice after the attack on the opponent, it gives you a shot at more favorable numbers that you can leak to the media and show potential contributors to demonstrate the
supposedly vibrant viability of your candidacy.
When Steve Womack says he has a poll showing him way out front in the Republican race for Congress in the 3rd District, laugh it off. When Jim Keet says he has a poll showing his defeat of Gov. Mike Beebe a doable proposition, laugh louder.
By the way: I'd like to announce that I have a poll showing my column to be the most widely read feature in this newspaper.
Alas, this is one of those times when I must long for the good ol' days.
Back before the everything-goes coverage of the Internet by which a candidate touting his own silly poll could get his assertion of vibrant viability regurgitated on a blog or a tweet, the newspapers simply would decline to take seriously any poll results asserted by candidates.
Yes, it was a better time, when responsible newspapers filtered your information.
The late, great Arkansas Gazette had a rule that we didn't report attacks by one candidate on another on the last day of campaigns. The thinking was that these would be sucker punches and that the candidate attacked might not have a sufficient and fair opportunity to counter a smear.
I asked a grumpy old editor whether we'd report a last-day shooting of one candidate by another. He said only as a short item in the police blotter.