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Friday, November 2, 2012

Political Pollsters and the Blank Page


Every election year I seem to learn something unexpected about myself, and this year I learned that I am an important demographic for people who are desperate to predict the future. I have come to this conclusion because in the last three days I have received as many polling calls. "If the election were held today, whom would you vote for?" How many times can anyone ask me that question? Other questions follow, usually a list of races and choices. Some of the polls include additional questions on elected officials not running, my views on the economy, my political affiliations (if any), or my willingness to speak to a reporter.

 In the late 1970s I was visiting my parents when the phone rang. It was a pollster. I answered a number of questions. No one seemed to care that I wasn't a registered voter in the state, so I answered about a dozen questions. When I hung up my father asked me who that was? I told him. "I've waited thirty years for a call like that." He was more than a little chagrined to have missed the call. He had missed his big opportunity to tell the government exactly nothing.

My husband has also had a number of these calls, but he's had many more over the last few weeks. He is special enough to get a call from a real person and he gives the poor soul useless answers. My husband insists he only votes on Mars, so the questions for him are irrelevant. But then he thinks the polls are irrelevant.

Right now I tend to side with my husband.

We cannot predict the future, and we shouldn't really try. Uncertainty is part of life. Learning to live with it is one measure of maturity. Writers do this every day when we sit down and face the blank page. Every day, I wonder what on earth am I going to write?

I could see the result of my uncertainty as I reread a story I'd written recently. I liked the way it turned out, but the ending wasn't what I had planned or expected when I started out. The unexpected ending was much better--it was more nuanced, more complex, more satisfying. But I wouldn't have gotten there if I had insisted on the original plan. I had to let go and write with a sense of uncertainty but also with a sense of confidence that the story would go where it had to go, and where it had to go would be worthwhile.

Over the next few days before the presidential election I expect I will get a few more pollsters, and I will give them the same answers. If I get a live person, I might give the unlucky fellow a few answers he won't like and won't know what to do with. But I will think of this as a chance to broaden someone's consciousness about certainty and doubt, openness and discovery. Who knows what might transpire?            

3 comments:

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I let my husband talk to pollsters since he is more opinionated than I am.

I like your idea of letting the story or characters take you to the ending rather than having preconceived notions. And I agree with you: life is uncertain. I was reminded of that this week with the advent of Hurricane Sandy. We're still living with the aftermath!

Susan Oleksiw said...

I hope you're recovering from Sandy. It seems like the tragedies from that storm will never end, and for many people it's been life-changing.

The blank page is a character lesson, I guess. We have to face it and deal with it.

Thanks for commenting, Jacquie.

Sheila York said...

So, Susan, are you and your husband the reason so many of the polls were so wrong? (hehehe) I was reading that the ones that concentrated on landline calling were the furthest off. I've wondered if that was because so many younger voters don't have landlines or because landline customers have more years of being fed up with phone interruptions and are more likely to want to play with the pollster's head.