The call from a pollster

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By Merilee Dannemann

The phone call is from a pollster – another one.
This year I decided that if they sound even halfway legitimate, I’m going to take the time and answer their questions. I want my opinion to count. In past years I have been more wary, suspecting that no matter how they masquerade, their mission is more nefarious than what they say.
(I don’t respond to calls that promise that in return for answering a few questions I will qualify for a free two-day cruise.)
The season’s first polling call took about 15 minutes, and the questions were fascinating. Minutes later, I remembered I’m a newspaper columnist and kicked myself for not taking notes. This time, I was sitting at my computer when the pollster called.
The pollster asks what I think are the most important issues facing New Mexico.  I say, economic development and education. Later I wished I had said something more original, like general ineptitude, New Mexico’s 49th rank in almost everything, or perhaps the issue that logically should stop growth in its tracks, water. But realistically, politicians can’t make it rain.
Today’s poll is about my district’s candidates for state Senate. I didn’t tell the pollster I am acquainted with both candidates, but she didn’t ask.
The pollster reads statements about the Democratic candidate. First, his qualifications, stated in a positive light. Does this influence me for or against this candidate – somewhat, very much or no difference? Next, his campaign pledges. He says his top priority is helping small business grow and making New Mexico a more business friendly state. Whoop-de-doo, I’m thinking.  I’ll bet he’s also in favor of apple pie.
Now the negatives: Critics say he will add to the corruption and political manipulation in Santa Fe. Of course they do. Does that influence me? If I believed it, it would, but who are these critics?
The Republican candidate is next. This candidate pledges to reduce taxes and expand education. I’m pretty sure she likes apple pie also. She wants to make government more transparent, the pollster says. Well, okay, but please, no more e-mail scandals.
Her critics say we can’t count on her because she flip-flopped on issues. That gets my dander up, but not the way the wording of the poll intended. I don’t like such accusations. What some call a flip-flop might have been a difficult vote on a complex issue.
Her critics say she is in the pocket of a large corporation. Possibly, I think. Most legislators who are not rich or retired have jobs or businesses and so are connected to some special interest or other. I hope they are still able to vote objectively. I was married to one who did, scrupulously.
Finally, if the election were held today, whom would you vote for? I’m still undecided, I say. I want my legislators supporting what’s right, not what polls tell them to support. And if this was a “push” poll, the kind that tries to influence voters under a pretext of objectivity, it was too subtle.
But here’s my concern. Who paid for this? The call came from a market research company with a Connecticut area code. Someone spent money for the poll and will spend more money making use of the information.  
New Mexico still has a part-time, volunteer citizen Legislature, but somebody is spending staggering amounts of money to influence our legislative elections. I don’t know if these polls are commissioned by candidates, by the parties, or by those infamous anonymous SuperPACs we have heard about. And I don’t like the thought of what it’s doing to our Legislature.  
 Contact Merilee Dannemann through triplespacedagain.com.