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If the polled asked their own questions

Candidates may be whistling in the dark when they use the old line, "The only poll that matters is the one on election day." But don't we all have doubts - be frank, Attorney General John Ashcroft can't hear you - about preelection polls that turn democracy into a horse race without a Seabiscuit?

Pollsters keep asking people to split hairs on how interested they are - very, somewhat, not, or don't know - in inescapable matters like the economy and healthcare. Perhaps we'd have more confidence if you and I defined the questions and multiple choices.

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Try it.

1. How interested are you in whether a candidate tells the truth?

* Really, really interested.

* Fairly interested.

* That's his or her business.

* Nobody's perfect.

2. How interested are you in whether a candidate's personal life is in keeping with his or her public persona?

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* Wildly.

* Pruriently.

* Not sure how we'd find out for sure.

* Don't mind casting the first stone.

3. How interested are you in the police records of a candidate's family members?

* Intensely.

* Sadly.

* Not every brother is a keeper.

* Only if the candidate was caught, too.

4. How interested are you in the way a candidate tries to get out of responsibility for words or actions in the past?

* Judgmentally.

* Frivolously.

* Fatalistically.

* Less than in how he/she tries to get out of responsibility for what he/she is still doing.

5. How interested are you in whether a candidate can debate without notes or teleprompters?

* Deeply.

* Ironically.

* It's the content, even if candidates have to read what's prepared for them.

* Anyone could blank under those lights.

6. How interested are you in whether a candidate plays the race card, Hispanic card, class card, senior card, youth card, gender card, environmental card, union card, corporate card, bilingual card, or unilateral card?

* Passionately.

* Academically.

* Depends on which pack I'm in.

* Would fake being surprised.

7. Finally, for now, how interested are you in whether a candidate does not change his or her views before different audiences; i.e. NOW? NRA? Jay Leno?

* Unswervingly.

* Swervingly.

* Would need to know which views.

* A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen.

Test any candidate according to your answers above, and don't worry about New Hampshire.

Roderick Nordell is a former Monitor staff editor.


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