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January 26, 2016

Pollsters love me. I’m old, white, male, I have a landline, and I’m home a lot. America, I’m proud to represent you.

Pollsters hate me. I only stay on the line to figure out what they want and who they are working for, I don’t have the answers to many of their questions, and sometimes my answers deviate from exacting fidelity to truth.

As Frank Bruni said in Sunday’s New York Times in an article titled Our Insane Addiction to Polls, “there’s the question of whether the kind of people who consent to polls are true weather vanes.”

Whatever. America’s pollsters, I’m there for you. Even on Saturdays, when a lot of these calls come in, I answer. If my landline rings it’s either a marketer offering me Life Alert (“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”) or a pollster.

In terms of answering truthfully I’m trying to do better and make my dearly departed sainted Irish mother proud. But, pollsters should be aware that if you call me with a robo-poll (Interactive Voice Response, IVR) or if it is a push-poll, my answers will be total BS and when I get tired of messing around I’ll hang up.

On Saturday I was polled about my views on charter schools. It was a professional poll, live interviewer and everything. I take total responsibility for the interviewer having to consult with her supervisor and then ending the interview.

The problem is that my truthful answers most often are “I don’t know.” I’m not an expert on charter schools. I’m a member of the Faculty Staff Union at UMassBoston so I could answer that question accurately and I know what my union thinks of charters and I generally support my union. But that doesn’t mean I’m an expert on charter schools at all. I’m often critical of polls because many of their respondents offer an opinion (more accurately a sentiment or emotion) without understanding much about the issue. I try to stay away from that so a lot of my answers are “I don’t know.”

There are questions where I disagree with the underlying premise of the question. I won’t answer those.

As best I recall one of the questions on Saturday mentioned “arbitrary” numbers of charter schools, but I don’t know if the number of allowable charters is arbitrary. I thought the legislature deliberated over that. I think another question asked about “rigid” guidelines but I don’t know anything about the guidelines so I can’t tell if they are rigid or not so I couldn’t answer that question. I was asked a question about whether my opinion would be influenced by knowing that Wall Street interests will spend $18 million in favor of a ballot proposition to increase charters. I could answer that one.

If you knew that Governor Charlie Baker is in favor of the ballot question, would that affect your opinion? That’s a tough one. A lot of things would affect my opinion, like academic reports, the views of other political leaders, my views on the importance of public education, my experiences with public education, my kids’ experience, and on and on. I just don’t know how the governor’s views would weigh  in all that.  No answer.

If today was Election Day, how would you vote? But it isn’t Election Day and I’ll probably learn a lot more about the question before this November 8, 2016. So I couldn’t answer that one.

I forgot the precise time but at some point the interviewer asked for a brief pause. I think she spoke with her supervisor. When she returned she politely thanked me for my participation and ended the interview.

Pollsters should be aware that I plan to be at home next Saturday, and I’ll answer the phone. I may answer your questions truthfully. Or not. I don’t know.

polls, political

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