Anyone who follows American elections and is NOT shaking their heads right now or cringing a lot should probably be put on some kind of database, or maybe deported.
My political junkiness began at the ripe old age of 10 when my Fifth Grade teacher announced that we would be debating the Nixon-McGovern race in class. It turned out I was one of only two students who was for McGovern. The other one, let’s call him Ricky, was a new kid. He did some strange stuff like, not concealing his deep love for our wonderful teacher, Miss Dess. He fawned over her all the time. And one day, when the abacus she was showing us broke, spilling the beads all over the classroom floor, Ricky literally dove headfirst from his seat onto the floor to pick up as many as he could for her. At that point, I wasn’t yet sure what the word “cool” meant, but I DID know Ricky wasn’t it. (A small aside: Seven years later, he would become our Senior Class President.)
So, Ricky and I had to work in a team and prepare for the debate. It quickly became clear to me that his only argument was “My parents are voting for him.”
I got worried and told my mom about the assignment when I got home. She took me straight to the McGovern Campaign Headquarters and we got loads of swag and pamphlets for me to pore over. I liked the sound of his promise to end the war in Vietnam and there was also something about a guaranteed income that I didn’t really understand. I memorized some numbers – the millions of dollars spent every day (or was it hour?) on the war, the number of dead Americans . . . I came to school ready to do battle. I asked Ricky what he had found out in the meantime. He said, “About what?”
Miss Dess started the debate by choosing one speaker for each side. She chose Ricky. He got creamed.
I think that moment was even more disappointing to me than the election night itself. I somehow felt that if Ricky had brought up the war and the costs and the dying soldiers in our debate, Nixon wouldn’t have won 49 out of 50 states (only to resign in disgrace two years later – Thank you, Watergate.)
I have followed every election since, rejoicing over Carter, Clinton, and Obama while blaming Ricky for Reagan and the Bushes. I have never shaken the feeling that if people would take just a little time to inform themselves better, elections would turn out very differently.
And then there is this election cycle.
Is it me? Or has it been one the most embarrassing displays of dumbness and outrageous “pandering to the base” ever inflicted on the voters? Badges for Muslims? (There goes freedom of religion.) Candidates choosing their own debate moderators and questions? (There goes freedom of the press and the 1st Amendment.) A Deportation Force? (There goes domestic tranquility and the 4th Amendment .) Keeping Guantanamo open? (There go the 5th, 6th, and 7th.) Water boarding? (There goes the 8th.) And what about the 2nd Amendment? Well, we’ll keep that one, except for that annoying “well regulated” part.
I don’t believe Americans are generally dumb and I know that it is still early in the election and people are busy. I think pigs will fly before either Trump or Carson gets elected. So . . . but . . . where are all these poll numbers coming from?
Today there were two particularly strange ones out of New Hampshire. One had Trump way out in front as usual – at 32% – a full 19 points higher than the guy in second place. The second poll added Mitt Romney into the mix and suddenly a very different picture emerged:
I suddenly wondered if the people taking this poll were even aware that Romney is not running. Is this all just name recognition at this point? How much do these people know at all about the current candidates and their positions?
I am starting to believe that any poll which does not first test the respondents’ general knowledge level isn’t worth the paper it is printed on. The first questions should ask people to simply identify the candidates’ among a set of 30 or so names. When asked who they support, follow-up questions asking “Why” or “Why not?” should be included. After stating who they support, the follow-up question “Really? All the way into the voting booth?” should be included. A control question in this section should be “Have you ever voted differently than you had said you would to a pollster?”
A second section of the poll should ask the respondents which policies they support – but without naming the actual candidates who espouse them. For instance, on the topic of terrorism:
Tick the box next to the policy you prefer:
o “Our international coalition of 26 countries fighting ISIL should be maintained and expanded. We should create a no-fly zone and improve human intelligence capabilities . . .”
o “We’re going to look into a lot of things. We’re gonna be so great in the military stuff.”
If some pollster did all this, we could get poll results that reflected both the candidates and the electorate. Picture it: a news show announcing the latest poll results with statements like this:
“32% of the respondents favored Trump, but three-fourths of them also believed that Bernie Sanders sells fried chicken.”
“8% of the respondents favored Bush, with most stating their reason as being “He did such a good job last time.”
“The majority of Cruz supporters (9%) listed the movie ‘Top Gun’ as one of the factors affecting their decision.”
“Interestingly, George Pataki was the favorite among 2% of the respondents, whereby only 1% could identify him as one of the candidates.”
“When asked to explain their lack of support for Lindsey Graham, the majority of respondents answered “I don’t think America is ready for a female president.”
“The most frequent complaint among Chris Christie detractors was “I am not sure if he is a Christian.”