A few weeknights ago, I was sitting comfortably at home, enjoying some commercials for the A-Team movie, which were occasionally interrupted by some NBA playoff basketball. The phone rang, and I do what I normally do – swear for 30 seconds, then I got off the couch to answer it. (It is never for me.)
At the other end of the line was a pleasant young Indian woman telling me she was conducting a poll. For some reason, I’m on a giant master polling list, because I get calls like these at least once a week. I asked her who commissioned the poll, and she said if she told me, she’d have to cancel the call, as it would bias the results.
Seeing as how our group does polling for a living, I decided to go through with it, to see if I could guess who was conducting the poll. Plus, whenever I answer a telephone poll, I feel like I’m doing my civic duty. Like I should receive some sort of cash award. (Now that I mention it, public, you owe me $13.24 for my time. An invoice is on the way.)
But here’s the thing about polls – often times, complicated issues are boiled down to “yes” or “no” answers – and I feel an obligation to give an answer, so I might be a little more… shall we say… forthcoming in my answers. It’s for science, right?
For example, one of the questions in this poll was, “Do you support or oppose gay marriage?” This is an issue on which I’m genuinely conflicted. I don’t buy that gay and lesbian couples getting married affects my own marriage in any way. (In fact, the 6 month-long NBA playoffs has done far more damage to my marriage than “the gays” ever will. If Kobe Bryant married another man, I might have to get divorced on the spot.)
But this wasn’t the only question I was supposed to boil down into a one word answer. Imagine getting a question like, “do you support deporting all the illegal immigrants in America?” Obviously, it’s a complicated issue. And answering either “yes” or “no” can’t possibly reflect any complicated underlying issues.
About halfway in, I was asked some questions about my congressional representative, Tammy Baldwin. “Do you think Tammy Baldwin spends too much time on gay and lesbian issues?” was one of them. “Do you think Tammy Baldwin has done enough to keep and create jobs in America?” was another.
It was at this point that I realized it was Baldwin’s campaign that was conducting the poll. (And don’t think the irony was lost on me that a woman on a headset in India, hired by the Tammy Baldwin campaign, was asking me if Baldwin has done enough to keep jobs in America.)
Conservative candidates don’t waste valuable poll questions asking about gay and lesbian issues – generally, because they’re not really a vote mover. (In 2006, the constitutional amendment passed 60-40, but Republicans were trounced in elections all across Wisconsin.) It’s only a liberal fantasy that conservative voters sit around their house, wringing their hands about the gay conspiracy taking over the world. We’re actually too busy going to work and watching Glenn Beck.
But then it occurred to me – here I was, trying to be a stand-up citizen and give one-word answers to all these complicated questions, and now Tammy Baldwin has all my answers at the tip of her fingers. I was trying to be as honest as possible, but clearly some of my answers to the questions as they were asked would need further explanation to be publicly palatable.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, I wanted to enter a life of crime – and run for Congress. (This will not happen, incidentally, as I plan to marry Kobe Bryant and move to the Bahamas.) Now Baldwin has all my simple answers to her questions – asked the way her campaign wanted to ask them – which she could use to make me look like an idiot. (More so than I normally do myself.)
This is an awesome strategy future campaigns should use. Once you get yourself elected, pick out who your most likely challengers will be in your next election. Then do some phony poll that only calls those people, and get them on the record with “yes” and “no” answers on some controversial issues. You’ll probably find that they’ll give you more honest answers, as they feel like they’re doing their civic duty. Then, when they run, you can hammer them with their own positions. As Gill the Fish says in Finding Nemo, IT’S FOOLPROOF.
(Incidentally, if your campaign does use this strategy, you are violating my intellectual property. I accept payment in Jamba Juice.)