October 11, 2012

On Being Polled

After work yesterday I was where I frequently am – sitting on the living room floor in front of the TV with a PS3 controller in my hand – when the phone rang. Given the time of day I was sure it was a telemarketer of some sort, but since my caller ID is on the fritz I picked up anyway. Under normal circumstances, I tell telemarketers I’m not interested and hang up before they get into their spiel, but the woman on the other end of the line did something that made me hold on for just a second.

She pronounced my name right. You’d be amazed at how many different and interestingly wrong ways “Byrne” can come out of someone’s mouth.

Turns out she wasn’t selling anything, but asking questions for a “research” firm. I assumed it would be political, given the season, and I was right. So I settled in and answered a bunch of questions. It was an interesting experience.

This survey focused on West Virginia elections, particularly the governor’s race, although I was asked about the presidential race and the West Virginia senate election as well. Oddly enough, when it came to the West Virginia races, I was asked who I would vote for in races involving both all the candidates (i.e., throwing in the Mountain and Libertarian party candidates) and only the Democrat and Republican candidates, but for the presidential contest was only offered the Obama/Romney choice. To her credit, the lady on the phone accepted my “neither” answer on that one without complaint.

My guess is that this poll was being conducted on behalf of Bill Maloney, the Republican challenger to West Virginia governor Earl Ray Tomblin. I was specifically asked about my opinion of Maloney and whether it had changed recently, but wasn’t asked the same question about Tomblin. There were a long series of questions about which candidate most reflected certain ideas (regardless of which one you would vote for.) Thankfully, once again, when I answered “neither” to the question of which one “cared about people like me,” my inquisitor took that answer without question.

The pollster didn’t identify itself, so I have no idea whether the results of this inquiry will be made public or if it’s an internal poll done for one of the campaigns (that’s my guess). Regardless, it’s ironic that my answers to those questions over the phone will probably have more impact on the election than any vote I cast. After all, polling is based on samples of the population, so each person who answers questions is really doing so on behalf of perhaps thousands of people. In the voting booth, I’ve only got one ballot to cast, even in West Virginia.

So, hey, maybe I made a difference this time around!

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