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Doling for polling

Why is it that so many upstanding citizens are lying low when it comes to deciding who will sit in the White House? We're talking about low voter turnout here. Perhaps so few people bother to show up because there seems little point to leaving their mark on the ballot when pollsters tell them on the eve of the election that Candidate A has a safe lead over Candidate B.

In a sense, those pollsters aid and abet the nonvoting public's dereliction of civic duty. They're the bane of democracy, and that's why we, who represent the polling pool, should all clam up so that there will be no more polls for the pols. When pressed, we will announce that we have decided to be undecided and then start talking about the weather.

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As a result, nobody will have a clue who is ahead. Lack of a "presumptive nominee" will put a lot of excitement back into the democratic process. Even the underdog - if we have any idea who that is - will love it. No longer will they be subjected to questions like: "Mr./Ms. Candidate, how are you going to overcome the 30-point lead of your opponent?" and then have to mumble something about a 30-point margin of error.

Of course, the pollsters aren't going to throw in their towels - right on top of the politicos' hats in the ring. Using their ingenuity, they'll at least try for some sort of straw poll, such as counting campaign bumper stickers. But, desperate for hard figures, they'll think up a completely new system - "incentivizing" selected voters to reveal their choices. Which means paying them, say, $250 per race to indicate their favorites at various times right up to election day. Participants will make a sworn statement that their choices are true and correct to the best of their knowledge and belief. Quite possibly they'll be from a socioeconomic segment of the population hard up for cash and therefore eager to get on retainer. Talk about a representative sampling.

Of course, the ethics of this approach are bound to come under attack. "Doling for polling" will be considered just one step away from vote-buying. And while pollsters will defend the system, legislators will be asked to outlaw the very practice that enables them to strategize for their campaigns.

In the end, a compromise will be worked out. Instead of getting cash for divulging political preferences, voters will be "incentivized" with "free gifts" distributed at polling stations. A lottery system will have them walking away with toasters, Palm Pilots, or stuffed donkeys or elephants.

While participation in the democratic process will soar to the level of bygone days, where does this leave our pollsters? Not all is lost for them. They'll conduct a new kind of poll: What gifts have the greatest drawing power and, more important, will sway voters to either party?

Peter Dreyer is a retired photographer whose columns appear in the Daily News Transcript.


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