A Nation of Polls and Predictions
By Prof. Walt Brasch

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The U.S. national TV networks, with the print media drooling in theirshadows, began "predicting" the presidential winner in each statenanoseconds after the November 2000 polls closed. They based theirpretend-scientific analyses upon exit polls, directed by consultingcompanies populated by statisticians, mathematicians, andacademicians of all types. They could just as well have hired a bevyof bright beauticians for all the accuracy we saw in Florida.

As we now know from the media, all the exit polls from Floridawere right. George W. Bush won. And Al Gore won. And nobody won. Andsomebody else won. And right-wing conservative Pat Buchanan scoredbig in liberalDemocrat Palm Beach. And Ralph Nader was somewhere protecting palmtrees.

The results of the Florida election, which by chance circumstancewill determine the next president, is rife with charges of fraud,incompetence, and stupidity. Ballots were improperly prepared in oneheavily-Democratic county, ballot boxes were "lost" or unsecuredelsewhere, and more than 19,000 votes are in dispute, more thanenough to decide who wins the Florida popular vote, the state's 25electoral votes, and the presidency. Even Pat Buchanan acknowledgednot only the "ineptitude" in ballot design, but seriously doubted hecould have received 3,400 votes in the liberal Jewish precincts.

Thousands have taken to street demonstrations to protest what theybelieve is an election stolen from Vice-President Al Gore in a stateunder the control of Gov. "Jeb" Bush, brother of Gov. George W. Bush,who during the campaign declared he would do whatever it took to giveFlorida to the Republicans.

The vice-president, who won the nation's popular vote but may losethe election in the Electoral College depending upon what happens inFlorida, has told the people he trusts the Constitution, and standsbehind whatever path it leads. His opponent, as arrogant and smirkyas he was during the campaign, has already begun acting as if thestate and election are his, celebrating and "leaking" names of hiscabinet and key aides.

With the possibility of losing the election, Bush has declaredthat Gore's challenge is just "politics." Of course it's politics.What part of the election process does Bush believe isn't politics?Bush, of course, is the same candidate who spent millions in TV adsdeclaring "I believe in the people," apparently as long as they agreewith him.

Florida is also the state where election fraud is just another wayto enjoy a balmy November day. The 1999 Pulitzer Prize ininvestigative journalism went to the Miami Herald news stafffor numerous stories that pointed to massive voter fraud thateventually led the courts to overturn the election of the Miamimayor.

The problems in Florida aren't unlike the problems in Illinois in1960. The Republicans, united behind Richard Nixon, saw possiblevoter fraud in Democrat Mayor Richard Daley's Chicago, which hastraditionally allowed dead people to vote, and the ward healers torecruit the homeless to earn a few extra bucks by voting early andoften. It was Illinois that guaranteed

John F. Kennedy the election in one of the slimmest vote marginsin history, gave us Camelot, and postponed Watergate about 14years.

But, the problems in the 2000 election, and especially in Florida,have been magnified by the news media's insatiable rush to judgment,their inner need to be first with the news, even if it's inaccurate.To pretend they know what's happening, they base everything uponpolls, not unlike how the politicians decide who's worth the time toschmooze and booze.

Reporters who voted in only their second general electionnow writedetailed analyses and predictions of upcoming elections, based upon"scientific polling procedures." Polls dominate news coverage, andpoliticians read them as religiously as churches have bingo games,afraid to make decisions without being told what to think. The newsis no longer what the candidates are doing, but what other peoplethink of the candidates and the candidates' reactions to the polls.Naturally, our follow-the-sheep nation supports those ahead in thepolls. In a convoluted Mobius strip of logic, the media then devotemore of their news coverage to people who are ahead in the polls.Unless you're billionaires Ross Perot and Steve Forbes, if you have abrilliant and workable plan for the future of America but are a"third party" candidate or an independent, you get minimal coverage.After all, the polls proved you don't have a chance of winning, sowhy should the media waste time and space?

Newspaper editors with nothing better to do with their lives sendout a reporter and photographer to do "Person on the Street"interviews. The question of the day to a half dozen people who can'teven name their own Congressman is, "Do you agree with thePresident's handling of the nuclear test ban treaty?" As anysophomore math major knows, these polls are unscientific and useless.But, circulation increases another dozen or so that day as polledrelatives buy an extra copy of the paper.

Routine TV polls are even more insidious. For a buck--splitbetween the phone company and the station--you call a 900 numberduring the 6 o'clock newscast, answer a yes/no question, and hear theresults at 11. However, we don't know how many fools wasted a buck,if most of them were rich dowagers with the time and money to call ina dozen times, friends or enemies of a particular candidate or issue,or 13-year-old pubescents who thought by calling the 900 numberthey'd hear a TV anchor talk dirty to them.

Maybe, it's time the rest of us talk dirty to the some of themedia.

Brasch, professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University, isa national award-winning journalist, who has covered politics formore than 30 years.

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