VICTORIA -- Oh, how I wish the Gallops and Goldfarbs would find gainful employment and start earning an honest living.
I can't stand polls. In fact I have developed an outright phobia for them. I will not take polls, nor answer them. Polls make me madder than anything governments have done to me since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. At their least objective, political polls have taken the fun out of elections. Before the arrival of pollsters and their incessant public-opinion gathering, elections were damn exciting. Who would win was usually anybody's guess, and people used to be glued to their radios or television sets, following the results.
Now it's all over before you even drop your ballot into the box.
Thanks to pollsters, we are told almost daily which party leads by how many percentage points. To make it worse, the major TV networks, with the help of intricate computer programs, "announce" the winner half an hour after the polls close. I'm no luddite. I took to computers like a duck to water, and I'm looking forward to inventions that haven't been made yet. But polls should never have been invented.
There is an even darker side to opinion polls. Pollsters tell us that their surveys are only a reflection of public opinion. Don't you believe it. The moment the results of a poll are made public, it starts forming opinion, rather than reflecting it. The poll takes on a life of its own. People who, for one reason or another, are undecided, are tempted to go with the winner. Nobody wants to back a loser. As long as nobody knows who is in the lead, those people will have to make up heir minds on some other basis. A poll gives them the copout they need to avoid thinking about the issues themselves.
It's bad enough that John Turner should have swung public opinion in his favor by virtue of a well-rehearsed stage performance during the TV debate. It's offensive that the poll taken after the debate further contributed to Turner's rising popularity.
Unfortunately there is little hope that politicians will help beat back the armies of pollsters digging into our lives for information, because they are the main beneficiaries of polls.
Take Brian Mulroney's campaign performance. During the first three weeks, he tried to seduce us with his statesman act. He never went on the attack. His speeches were low-key and meant to inspire confidence. Verbal slinging matches were clearly below him. When he started slipping in the polls, his image-makers gave him a new bag of tricks. He became the tough guy. Chin stuck out, finger pointing warningly, Brian began raising his voice. Without the benefit of polls, he would never have known that Canadians weren't buying the diplomatic ruse.
The big loser in the poll-inspired image game is Ed Broadbent. Good ole Ed just can't seem to play anyone but himself, and that's a handicap that is costing him dearly. Pollsters argue that there is nothing wrong with politicians acting on the information they get from polls. The trouble is they don't change anything except their image.
The three leaders haven't changed one bit, no matter how different they may look to voters by the end of the campaign. Mulroney is still the same slick politician so many Canadians disliked a few months ago. Turner is still as unsure of himself as ever, and Broadbent, well he's still honest Ed.
The pollsters drew an image of what we collectively seemed to want our politicians to be, and the politicians are scrambling to fit that image. What a way to run a country.
The best solution would be to ban polls, if not permanently, then at least during an election campaign, but like I said, there's little chance of that happening.
The next-best thing is to boycott polls. Don't answer the questions. Tell pollsters is none of their business what you think of the party leaders and how you will vote. And tell them that's the way you feel 24 times our of 24 with no margin of error.
Or if you feel like having a little fun at the expense of the pollsters and their clients, lie. Lie through your teeth. Tell them you'll be voting for the Rhinos. Tell them you feel most strongly about the potholes on Highway 99. If you are asked who, in your opinion, would make the best prime minister, say Donald Duck. If the pollster says he's American, say that's what free trade is all about. Our politicians for their Donald Duck. Whatever you do, don't answer truthfully, because it really is nobody's business how you vote.
Maybe we can't legislate the beggars out of existence, but we sure as hell can express a disinterest in their product. And in a world still governed by the laws of supply and demand, that would be the end of polls.