April 26, 2006

How erect would you say Hillary Clinton makes your nipples?

hillarynatalieclose.jpg I got a call the other evening from a pollster for Hillary Clinton's senate campaign. I've always been a firm believer in participating in genuine political polls on the grounds that it's the only real way to influence the political scene (unlike, say, blogging. Or voting). Now I'm not so sure. After 15 minutes of answering the nice lady's questions, I don't think I was able to give even the slightest hint of what I believe about Hillary Clinton. If anything, I unintentionally, but unavoidably, misled her (or rather, the people who will read her data).

The bulk of the poll was seeking my reaction to a series of statements such as you might hear in a campaign ad or stump speech. I'd be told positive or negative things about Hillary or her opponent (almost always presumed to be John Spencer but once or twice Kathleen McFarland) and asked whether they made my opinion of each "much more favorable, somewhat more favorable, somewhat less favorable, or much less favorable." Here's where the problems began.

First of all, after volunteering, for several statements, that they did not change my opinon (because, for instance, I already knew the information) I was eventually told that I could no longer say that and must choose one of the four options. If I declined, my opinion would not be registered. I can only assume that the rules didn't change halfway through and that my initial responses were all tossed out, which I either should have been told from the start or not at all. But while that's a flaw that could easily have been remedied, there was a more intrinsic one that is the result of not allowing me to explain WHY I answered the way I did.

For instance, when being fed a line of bullshit about how Hillary is bravely fighting the White House over the Iraq war by pushing for more body armor or what not, I said it made me much less favorable — not because of the value of the positions, but because Hillary would have some fucking nerve trying to run on that line of bullshit after her craven support for the war. Now it's true the pollsters get the limited information that this ad campaign will not be effective with me, but they won't know why (unless they have good focus groups). At least I did get to make it clear that Hillary's offensive anti-videogame crusade is a turnoff.

Update: Forgot this nugget: One question was specifically about how I'd feel if Hillary gave a speech on subjects A, B, or C. They all sounded like fine speeches, but for each I had to honestly answer that they would make me much less favorable toward her because if she actually delivered them it would only confirm my opinion of Clinton as a politician who can't even give a policy speech without first testing to see how it polls. Yeah, I know that's SOP for every politician, but every politician didn't call me up.

I also got to make it clear that I will not be voting for Clinton under any circumstances, although they never did ask the one question that might give me pause (what if she were in danger of actually losing?) and which might reveal to them that the main reason I won't vote for her is that I don't want to encourage her to run in 2008. Still, it was borderline insulting of them to phrase the question as, "Do you think Hillary Clinton deserves another term or is it time to give someone else a try." This isn't about giving somebody a try, it's about finding the best person for the job.

Which is why I was also bummed that even though the very first question was how likely I am to vote in the Democratic primary (very), every question that followed was about the general election and assumed that Hillary would be the candidate. OK, that's a reasonable assumption, but I would very much like to have told the pollsters that I will be voting in the primary for Jonathan Tasini. I mean, I know my vote won't make a difference, barely even as a protest. But endorsing him in a poll of a few hundred people WOULD register. It might make Clinton really understand why she's lost progressives. Which might in turn make her wonder whether she can really count on her supposed base in 2008. As it is, all she learned is that it's going to be really easy to run negative ads against John Spencer, once people realize he's not the dead guy from The West Wing.

The other flaw in these polls, of course, is that respondants lie. For instance, in an apparent effort to weed out people who might actually know anything about the candidate, I was asked if I work in journalism. I said no, figuring that Peter Landesman would back me up on that.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


it's going to be really easy to run negative ads against John Spencer, once people realize he's not the dead guy from The West Wing.

Of course he isn't. He's the guy from the Blues Explosion.

Unlike Dan, I am a Hillary fan (a big one, at that), but if John Spencer (the dead guy) were actually running as Leo McGarry? I'd vote for that in a heartbeat.

even though the very first question was how likely I am to vote in the Democratic primary (very), every question that followed was about the general election and assumed that Hillary would be the candidate
I think the only reason they ask about the primary is to gauge how likely you are to actually vote in the general. Primary voters are VOTERS; general election-only voters are dilettantes.

The "But let me tell you *why*, dammit!" feeling has made me want to scream at virtually every poll, survey, and standardized test I've ever taken. It's especially frustrating with phone surveys, since I know perfectly well that the person giving the survey is a hired hand who knows nothing about the issues to begin with.

Charles - I get that, of course, but in this case it backfired, since if my candidate loses the primary, I'm not going to vote in the general. I am too complex to be bound by any poll!

Reminds me of the time I was polled for a Presidential race, and (honsestly) answered the demographic questions, then searched and searched for any news about how the candidates were spinning their messages to improve their performance in the critical North Carolina/Jewish/unemployed demographic.

Heh. Thank you for the punchline.

Remember helping out the Psych students in college by signing up for their experiments? They ask all kinds of questions but never about what they are really looking for. The questions are all sorts of misdirection. That's pretty much the way I see these polls, too. They don't care why you chose an answer because they really just wanted to see if you stutter.

How big would you say erect nipples make your eyes?

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