Ivo Skoric on Sun, 10 Nov 2002 17:44:14 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] My day as an exit poller

Two senators, both Democrats who did not take enormous pains to 
disguise themselves as Republicans (Paul Wellstone was the only male 
at the moveonpac website that did not wear suit and tie for the picture), 
in two swing states (Missouri and Minnesota), within two years (2000-
2002), lost their lives in aircraft crashes, shortly before elections. 

Before year 2000, those States were securely Democrat, and now they are 
both in the hands of Republicans. This sure, if had happened anywhere 
else but in the U.S., would have the U.S. administration calling for an 
independent investigation by foreign (preferably U.S.) experts.

To coax more Americans into performing their civic duties, many states 
now allow voters to cast ballots, either by mail or in person, about a 
month before the polling say (in 2000, 14% of votes were absentee 

But, in Minnesota 2002 mid-term elections, absentee votes placed for 
Wellstone prior to his violent death, did not count for his Democratic 
replacement, Walter Mondale. Neither could those voters cast their vote 
again. Essentially, they were screwed from their right to vote. So much 
for democracy!

North Korean president, Kim Jong Il, knows better: he does not fly on 
the airplane. That’s, probably, why he is still alive, despite his prominent 
placement on the axis of evil list.

The results of this mid-term elections are as they are: Republicans took 
control over the country - they won majority in both Houses of Congress 
and they won more races for governors. Save for one gubernatorial vote 
recount (in Alabama where one banner across the street from the State 
Capitol reads "Congratulations Governor Siegelman!" congratulating the 
Democratic incumbent, while next door, an even bigger display is 
stretched in support of the Republican contender: "Congratulations Bob 
Riley!"), Democrats lost fair and square.

MoveOn-Pac put it as: “Yesterday's loss was devastating.  We truly face 
dark times.” And former Clinton’s campaign guy James Carville said: 
"The American people just don't have a clue as to what's coming." 
George Bush gave us a little foreshadowing by saying that he wants to 
pass the tax cut and the Homeland Security bill a.s.a.p. Also movements 
of American military are observed towards Persian Gulf. So, what is 
coming is:
a) permanent war abroad
b) handouts to the 1% rich at home
c) police state for the rest at home

Already, anyone who criticizes the administration, even on purely 
domestic issues, is accused of lacking patriotism. Didn’t Bush called 
senators a bunch of traitors when they did not speedily passed the war 
on Iraq bill for him? After all, that strategy worked even against Senator 
Max Cleland, a genuine war hero who lost three limbs in his country's 
service, as Paul Krugman noted in his Op-Ed to the New York Times on 

Once, the Homeland Security department is in place, Bush will have a 
tool to dispense with his enemies, not only an office to declare them. In 
fact, his powers are going to more closely resemble that of his arch-
enemy Saddam Hussein, than of a democratically elected leader of a 
civilized Western society.

On top of that, there is this message, that turned me really sad: “Due to 
problems with exit poll feed from Voter News Service (VNS), exit poll 
results will not be available Tuesday Night. CNN.com will bring you full 
exit poll results when and if they become available.”

I was particularly interested in the exit poll results from Voter News 
Services, because I worked for them: I was an exit poller on November 5 
at the Godnick Senior Center polling place in Rutland, Vermont. I stood 
outside in near freezing weather for 11 hours asking every sixth person 
that came out through the only exit from that polling place: “Hi, would 
you mind filling out an exit poll, a confidential survey for the news 

After first two hours, I realized that I was under-dressed and that I was 
shivering. I thought of leaving, of cheating the Voter News Services - I 
could easily fill out the surveys myself and call them in at specified times 
from the warmth of my home, or, even better, from the slopes of 
Killington, snowboarding my ass off: I missed tons of fresh snow both 
on Tuesday and Wednesday - on Wenesday, because I was sick as a 
dog, after getting really hypothermic on Tuesday.

That’s because I stayed, and did my job right. At the point when I was 
considering to leave and cheat, I realized that I would be really 
embarrassed and ashamed in front of the friendly local Republican and 
Democrat candidates and campaigners that stood there outside, too. 
They all seemed to have believed that I was doing a good and an 
important job. And I was really impressed with their resilience. Most of 
them were older than me, and they stood out there in the cold as long as 
I did, or even longer, talking to people, asking for support, being 
genuinely moved with the process of elections.

There was a grandmotherly Republican woman running for an office of a 
judge at a local court: she did not even wear a hat; and there was a father 
of a Democrat guy running for State’s Attorney office - he cane there 
before me, and was still standing when I left. I just realized that I 
probably could never make my dad do that for me. And, now I am 
severely disappointed that all my effort and effort of thousands like me 
went in vain, because of some computer problem. I noticed that VNS had 
computer problems, because they had them whenever I called in. I feel 
cheated out.

So, since VNS will not release its results, I decided to write down my 
observations as an exit poller. Of course, this is only valid for that 
particular location, and I am doing it from my memory, because I sent the 
surveys in the same evening, hoping to speed things up.

1) I didn’t see a large queue at any time at the polling place, but people 
were coming and going at a steady rate all day long. Over 1500 votes 
were cast by 5:30 PM, when I took the number from the polling official.

2) About half of the voters I’ve seen were senior citizens. But, well, my 
location was at the senior citizens center, so I should’ve expected that.

3) There were families or just single parents bringing their non-voting 
children to see the process, to prepare them for the participating future in 
the participatory democracy.

4) Across the board, I had a pleasant experience doing my job: nobody 
was rude to me, and those who did not want to do the exit poll, had 
reasons for that - mostly they were running back to their jobs, or running 
to pick up kids from school, or running to do something else - that 
highlighted for me what I’ve heard from Democratic camp near me, that 
Election Day should be made a holiday.

5) Some people did not want to fill out the survey on principle: they 
maintained that media should not speculate on results before the voting 
is done - because people may lie in exit polls, and mid-voting trend 
reporting may sway people to vote for candidates reportedly winning.

6) There were people joking that they would vote for the candidate that 
endorses legalizing marijuana, and both camps laughed.

7) There were people delighted to do the exit poll, because one of the 
questions in the survey was whether they approve of George Bush’s 
leadership: it was hard for them to be confidential about that - they can’t 
stand the man. 

8) People from Republican camp asked me on couple of occasions what 
were my predictions, which I was specifically ordered not to talk about.

9) Democrats and Republicans stood together from the early morning, 
but then, realizing that voters may mistake ones for the others, 
Democrats crossed over to the side of the road where I was standing 
around noon.

10) As I felt a genuine belief and drive among local candidates to win 
over the hearts of their populace, I felt that a lot of people showing up to 
vote, really genuinely care about the local issues which those candidates 
represent. Minor things, local rivalries, small town talk, that’s really what 
those elections were all about.

11) Because whenever I looked over the surveys (and I made an effort of 
not looking at questionnaires before I take them out of the box, even 
when people would give them to me unfolded, trying to preserve their 
confidentiality) I was completely surprised with what I was seeing.

A) The questionnaires were uninterested in local candidates - they were 
just concerned about how people voted on the candidates for the 
governor and for Congress.

B) There were also demographic questions (age, gender, income niche, 
religion, ...) and there were quality questions (asking people about 
whether they approve George Bush’s job as a president, whether they 
think the economy is better or worse now that before Bush’s tenure, 
whether they think the country’s priority should be economy or war on 
terrorism, whether they consider themselves conservative, moderate or 
liberal, ...).

C) The striking truth is that I could not establish any correlation between 
whom people voted for and their answers to either demographic or 
quality questions: there were rich old people voting for Democratic 
candidates, and there were rich old people voting for Republicans, there 
were poor old people voting in both directions, and there were young, 
rich or poor, voting in both directions; the only two people under 24 that 
did the exit poll, both voted Republican. More interesting was that 
answers on approval of Bush’s leadership, or on the prioritizing of 
economy vs. terrorism, or on the state of economy, or even on the ones 
own political beliefs, apparently did not particularly matter to how people 
cast their votes: there were people disapproving of Bush voting 
Republican, people saying the war on terrorism should be country’s 
priority voting Democrat, people saying that economy is bad, but not 
checking that it should be country’s priority, as well as the other way 
around...   (Small wonder VNS computers went crazy)

D) Although there were questionnaires in which people voted both for 
the governor and for the congressman from a particular ticket - and those 
usually appeared in clusters, suggesting that there might have been an 
effort to sway the exit poll results (like I got a lot of pure Democrat 
questionnaires early in the morning, and I got a number of straight 
Republican ones around 2 pm) - most of people seemed to vote for a 
gubernatorial candidate from one party and for the congressional 
candidate from the other. It is as if they did not have a clue, or even as if 
they didn’t really care. It seems that mid-term elections are mostly about 
local politics and that those who show up to vote don’t see much further 
from the local gas station, choosing the candidates beyond the strictly 
local level according to the latest catchy phrase they came up with in 
their campaigns. Republican Douglas, who won governorship of 
Vermont (although he was just a  close second to Racine in the exit polls 
at my station), was mostly known for his latest campaign statement 
telling people that he would “stop drug dealers from out of state.”

In any case my conclusions were (this all apply beyond the local level):
1) American voters do not connect issues and parties.
2) American voters do not connect parties and candidates.
3) American voters vote for candidates based on the latest spin in the 

I don’t blame the voters, however. Candidates rarely adhere to any 
particular party agenda. And there is not really a particular, discernible, 
party agenda: especially in the recent years, as both parties moved their 
public image closer to the center. The truth can usually be heard only in 
the negatively charged ads paid for by the opposing camp.

This is misleading and hurts Democrats more than Republicans. Because, 
President Bush, indeed, does have a plan ( a) permanent war abroad, b) 
handouts to the 1% rich at home, c) police state for the rest at home). 
And he has a posse that sticks together with him, rain or shine. We may 
call them barbaric, cruel, primitive, uncivilized, and whatever we want, it 
doesn’t really matter as long as they elbow themselves through the 
orderly p.c. DC crowd, unopposed by a political group of similar strength 
and determination.

And, it seems that among Democrats, nobody really has a pro-active 
plan. Those who might have had it, they are inconvenienced by death. 
Democrats politics revolves around re-acting to the Republicans. Gore 
did not take leadership on the Iraq issue - he merely reacted to Bush’s 
war-mongering. And his brilliant anti-war speech was than followed by 
the humiliating sight of his former running mate, Lieberman, standing at 
attention behind seated George Bush, while the later was “wielding his 
mighty pen against Saddam Hussein”... So, what are Democratic voters 
supposed to think, then? And what about those undecided? They 
probably thought - thanks God we voted for Bush-Cheney in 2000, 
because can you imagine having Gore-Lieberman split on the Iraq issue, 
if they were elected to the White House!

Youthful MoveOn-Pac seems to be on the same page with me on that. I 
love their energy. Please go to their web page: http://moveon.org.  They 
argue that voters should call their representatives and urge them to 
support Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) instead of Martin Frost (D-TX) for the new 
House Minority Leader (Gephardt stepped down). Nancy opposed Iraq 
war resolution, while Martin suggested that Democrats should move 
even closer to the center. That’s while Republicans continue to move the 
center to the right... Nancy may return some vigor and passion back into 
the American politics.


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