The numbers game

February 21, 1996|By Art Buchwald

SINCE POLITICS is a game, everyone seems to keep score by the polls. The person leading in the polls is said to be winning the race. The one falling has had his day.

When Sen. Bob Dole started to drop in the polls, he snarled that they didn't mean anything to him because it was the people who counted and not members of the media who kept badgering him about the polls.

Life gets complicated when a candidate is leading in a poll but not as much as he was the week before. This is known as the "Dole problem." Every time Dole drops a point, the press writes that he's nose-diving, and the talk show experts say that he's too old.

Hedrick Higginbottom, who does political polling for newspapers and network TV, denies that he has life-and-death control over the candidates.

He said, "We bring joy to one candidate and despair to another, but without us the people wouldn't know whom to vote for. The people like to support a winner. If our polls indicate that Richard Lugar is favored, then money will start pouring in for him . . .

"The media are very influenced by the polls. They'll . . . cover the top three candidates in the polls and ignore the others. It's all very cozy. . .

"Do the American people tell the truth when they are interviewed by a pollster?" I asked.

"The whole truth and nothing but the truth . . . I cannot recall one incident when someone lied to us about how he intended to vote. Fortunately, it's a felony, punishable by 10 years in jail."

"Suppose someone says he is undecided, then you find out he plans on voting for Bob Dole?"

"Then we make him listen to Dole's State of the Union rebuttal speech for 24 hours."

Art Buchwald is a syndicated columnist.

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