Polling As/Is FARCE


Though always presenting problems, polling is an especially thorny issue during an election year, whether carried out by individual candidates, political parties, PACS, newspaper/TV combines or any other of the usual suspects. After the nation had been thoroughly poll-erized in 2000, rumor had it that another poll was taken in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties in Florida to determine if the populace thought the Marines should invade Cuba to rescue Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy who had been returned to his father in June 2000 after making it to the U.S. in late 1999. The poll, overwhelmingly in favor, seemed to have been conducted only among those who complained about not getting to vote for president in November because they had produced hanging chads or no chads at all. Such a poll was demographically weighted, claimed a bevy of social engineers at Harvard (though others made more uncomplimentary suggestions), but the whole thing pointed to corruption in the process of polling.

Ever watchful concerning corruption, the Senate Ethics Committee, thought by many to need watching itself, held a hearing on the matter recently and questioned a number of the nation's polling gurus, even the one from Chicago who claimed a poll of his proved that most of the citizens of Chicago thought Lake Michigan should be renamed Lake Al Capone. Close examination by the committee staff of the witness's tabulation, however, indicated that half of those said to have responded were actually dead and most of the rest in jail. This was the last straw for the committee, so legislation was suggested to regulate the polling industry, if not ban it altogether. A poll of the Capitol custodians was taken to decide who should submit appropriate legislation, and the majority favored Senator Jeffords, since, according to most of them, Jeffords, after polling Vermont in 2001 three months after taking office (actually mostly the office staff of then-governor Howard Dean), interpreted the results to mean that he should drop out of the Republican Party and throw Senate control to the democrats, or face losing his seat six years hence.

Thus was introduced legislation to enact laws to set up the Federal Agency for Regulating Compositing Enterprises (known for short by its acronym FARCE). It will be the business of this agency to oversee all polling activities in all states, territories, and all the ships at sea. Under this legislation, poll-designers and poll-takers must register with the government, the same as lobbyists, divulge their sources of income, describe their +/- margins in detail, and meet minimal requirements, such as completing the eighth grade or proving comparable professionalism. The entities for which they work may not be listed on the Stock Exchange, since, as is the case with political polls, they can produce polling statistics that can mean anything they desire (translated profits), thus causing wild fluctuations.

FARCE will be comprised of two agencies: the Bureau for Unethical Numbering Kinesis (BUNK, for short) and the Commission for Regulations and Protocols (known as CRAP). It will be the business of BUNK to set standards regarding fairness and accuracy in polling. For instance, reacting to a recent poll by a right-to-life group in which only pregnant unmarried girls were asked their choice of names for the baby, some lawmakers charged that the group treated unmarried girls who had had abortions unfairly by not asking them what names they would have chosen, and demanded successfully that BUNK foreclose this sort of political incorrectness. Also disallowed will be leading questions such as "Do you think your idiot-cowboy president should be impeached for consistently mispronouncing the term nuclear."

BUNK will set strict standards for accuracy in the interpretation of polling results, as well as the number required for an acceptable sample. This is needed to stop such things as the reporting of a polling outfit in Hazard, Kentucky, claiming that two out of three eastern-Kentuckians favored the drug OxyContin over methamphetamines for an acceptable high. It turned out that only three people had been polled and that the margin of error was +/- 99 percent. Making matters worse was the fact that none of the respondents could read. Shenanigans like this will be reported to BUNK, which will apply appropriate rulings such as, in this case, that both pollsters and the polled be sober.

CRAP will set out guidelines for when, how, and where polls can be conducted. Examples: Sixth-grade girls may not be polled on whether or not a navel-ring is more desirable than an eyebrow-ring or a lip-ring. Such a poll would be acceptable for those over the age of 15, but may not be conducted in schools for reasons of religious overtones, since a student might subconsciously think of a wedding ring, thus being manipulated into thinking marriage is more acceptable than shacking-up, as indicated in the Ten Commandments, thus precipitating an impingement upon the separation of church and state. The tendency to poll focus groups in homes or town-hall meetings may be approved if no religious symbols are present, but polling groups in bars will be allowed only if fifty percent of the gross earnings accrues to food consumption and no NFL game is on the TV. Polling among homosexuals will be allowed only outdoors, since a heterosexual pollster could be traumatized otherwise. Polling on ships at sea will be allowed only on unmilitary matters and when crews are not at battle stations or the smoking lamp is out, thus foreclosing flawed polling accruing to stress of the polled.

Finding a commissioner for FARCE promises to be hard, especially since he/she/it must be confirmed by the poll-loving Senate, and the legislation requires that only a completely objective individual may function in that capacity. Jimmy Carter has been considered, but his anti-administration remarks at the Nobel Prize clambake will probably disqualify him. Some folks think it was un-American and therefore pro-French and therefore lacking objectivity. Former president Clinton has been mentioned, since he was very objective regarding the use of the oval office and also is talented at parsing words, thus making him able to spot such things as leading questions. He probably won't make the cut, though, since he's known to kick his golf-ball if it's in the rough, and even tweak his scorecard, both things insinuating dishonesty. Senator Jeffords himself has been approached, but he demurred, knowing full well that the republican-controlled Senate would confirm him just to get even.

Some wag has suggested that the logical choice for the job would be J. Fred Muggs, the world's best-known chimp. The thinking is that he would see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil; therefore, he would be completely objective. It's rumored that his chances are not good, however, since he might make the usual Senate committee of egocentrics look bad if he should ever appear at a hearing. Being out-talked or out-thought or out-weaseled by a chimp would be outrageous for any self-respecting senator but certainly not beyond the realm of possibility.