A 202 area code on caller ID usually means that I’m not picking up. It’s going to be political—probably a plea for money. But last night, when 202 popped up at 10:00 pm, my outrage meter red-lined, and I decided to check it out—if only to vent my anger at whoever was on the other end...
It turned out to be a poll. Details on the questions after the orange blob [a lot of local stuff, but indicative, perhaps, of how much money and time is going into polling for hyperlocal issues, very early in the cycle, and escalating the stakes in local elections].
It was a doozy—a political opinion poll focused on the hyper-local Democratic primary for County Executive. Out here in flyover country, St. Louis County [which is not the same thing as St. Louis City] elects a County Executive [a fancy name for, essentially, the mayor of the county] every four years. Somehow, we elected a Democrat to the job in 2010, and he’s running for re-election, but has two Democratic opponents in the primary scheduled for August 2014.
Usually, you can tell who’s paying for these polls, because they ask blatantly obvious “push” questions. This time, though, there were “push” questions pertaining to both of the candidates considered the front runners: the incumbent, Charlie Dooley and the challenger, Steve Steinger.
I was very surprised by some of the questions and options offered for responses. Examples [from my pre-sleep notes, so undoubtedly far from verbatim]:
How strongly would you consider each of the following reasons to vote in the August Democratic primary for County Executive?
-The need to increase the political strength of the African-American community [Note to readers: Charlie Dooley is African-American.]
-The desire to elect people who support your right to make your own health care decisions
-To elect people who support increasing the minimum wage
-To elect people who support Obamacare
Which of these traits are most important to you when deciding who you will vote for?
-A candidate who supports a woman’s right to choose
-A candidate who is African-American
-A candidate who supports the principles of the Tea Party
-A candidate who supports conservative ideas
-A candidate who will fight corruption
On education, which of these statements do you agree with?
-Local, independent school districts should have the right to educate their own children.
-There should be a single, county-wide school district.
How strongly do you agree or disagree with this idea?
-There should be a law that guarantees workers a set number of sick days per year.
Which of the following statements are the most convincing to you? [Note to readers: There were more of these, but I didn't manage to get them into my notes.
-Charlie Dooley is a strong leader who listens and puts people first.
-Charlie Dooley has a history of awarding public contracts to his political allies.
-Steve Steinger is a lifelong resident of St. Louis County who is invested in its future.
-In his law practice, Steve Steinger has represented people with criminal records.
I’m not all that sophisticated about public-opinion polling, but my takeaway is that this poll is designed to test a range of messages that the Democratic Party might use to promote one candidate or the other. Or, wait, maybe it’s a Republican poll, trying to figure out, in the general election in November, what messages to use to try to defeat whoever wins the Democratic nomination. Beats me.
In any case, my notes don’t reflect anywhere near all of the questions I was asked, just the ones I was able to scribble down during what seemed like an endless barrage. I timed it, and it took more than 15 minutes—a major intrusion into my pre-bedtime routine. At this stage of the election cycle, even though I am a likely voter, I haven’t really formed many opinions about the candidates, so the in-the-weeds nature of the questions made them really annoying. Honestly, I only stayed on the phone because I was taking pity on the unfortunate woman who was just doing her job. And I know that she heard me sighing and oy-veying many times during our conversation. In fact, I told her that I felt bad for her, and that I would keep going just so that she could collect her pay.
Bottom line, the whole thing is a sad reflection on the current state of political campaigns. Does anybody actually stand for anything anymore, or is it all about poll-testing the messages and adjusting your beliefs to what will sell? That’s one question for which I’m pretty sure I know the answer.