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Oh, To Be Selected A Random Voter!

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DURING the political campaign, people seemed not to get excited over the weasel talk about ``selected random voters.'' This is a pity, since the selection of random voters tells us more about what is going on than the results of a nationwide poll ever do. How do you select something at random? These polls, which are now the accepted basis of every election prognostication, begin with the selection of people at random. If you get to be queried, it means you were selected. It doesn't matter how - by cranking machine, by a jury of impartial monkeys, by computer analysis - your name came up and somebody's name didn't. At random?

Years ago, our town was a ``test area'' for one of the big national samplings of public opinion. Every so often we would be invaded with pollsters showing badges on their lapels and with clipboards ready to shove into the doors that opened to them. Townspeople found it amusing to be thus sampled, and for the most part contributed pleasantly.

It wasn't everybody that got asked, because the random selecting was carefully done on the basis of which way the consensus was meant to swing. A poll has to know, before it starts, which way it is to be unbiased. About two weeks after the pollsters had visited our town, there would be a big to-do in the papers about the results of this great national survey and how it proved the people of the United States would do thus and so at the polls. Even then, the stories mentioned the ``selected random'' sampling, and even then nobody paused to consider what that meant.

Henry Reid was our town's only dentist then, and he was always selected at random. At first, he wasn't too happy about this, since the pollster always came while Harry was in some patient's mouth with hoseline and plow, and Harry didn't have an assistant to fend for him. His office was in his home, and by the doorbell at the front door was a sign that said, ``Ring And Walk In - Waiting Room To Left.''

Patients would let themselves in, but the pollsters never did. Harry would let the bell ring a few times, and then he would disengage himself from the immediate molar and go to the door. He would see the badge on the pollster's lapel and he would say, ``Good morning.''

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