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For whom the polls toll

The presidential debates are over, yet the cloudy rhetoric of dubious proposals and indistinctive pasts lingers and still 7 percent of Americans are uncertain how they will vote on Nov. 2.

The presidential debates are over, yet the cloudy rhetoric of dubious proposals and indistinctive pasts lingers and still 7 percent of Americans are uncertain how they will vote on Nov. 2.

With the election less than two weeks away, undecided voters have become the most vilified group in America this side of tobacco executives and Bill O'Reilly. It's the same way third-year undecided students are taunted as they walk across campus during convocation marches.

I have some sympathy for the undecided - though secretly I doubt many of them actually are uncertain how they will vote.

It's hard to make a clear picture when candidates are throwing numbers at you faster than a Roger Clemens fastball. Actually, it's all you can do to get out of the way knowing they're pitching high and tight.

Confusing the issue even more is the popularity of polling. On TV, radio and newspapers, talking heads and reporters dish out the latest results of some survey faster than the man on the street can say, "Who are you with again?"


Within minutes of the debates' endings, polls announced who had won, though the results and margin shifted from one source to the other. Likewise, numbers in swing states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Pennsylvania varied, depending on which candidate was the last to visit the state, or how the college football team is doing. In Florida answers depended on whether the state was being pounded by a hurricane.

But what do the polls really tell us? According to some, George W. Bush has a slight lead over John F. Kerry. In others, both men are neck and neck. Still others suggest most Americans don't know what the candidates' middle initial stands for.

Such surveys tell us more than we want, or need, to know. Yet pundits pull them out with the ease of a back-pocket comb.

For example, the number of undecided voters is an estimated 7 percent. Meanwhile the number of voters who want a little extra attention or are just trying to drive their significant other or parents crazy is also 7 percent.

While pundits are quick to pounce on poll results, some still haven't gotten the hang of it.

In an opinion piece in Monday's New York Times, columnist William Safire ripped both Kerry and John Edwards for bringing up the fact that Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter Mary is a lesbian. Safire said previous to the debates, "The percentage of voters aware of Mary Cheney's sexual orientation was tiny."

Tiny? That's it? C'mon Safire, give us some concrete numbers, something like 100 percent of Mary Cheney's parents were ticked off their daughter's sexuality was drawn into the debate. Or better yet, two out of three martini drinkers believe Safire concocts Bombay Safire gin with his business partner Jimmy Bombay.

There are two sides to this numbers game. Polls clearly indicate American voters prefer Laura Bush to Teresa Heinz Kerry and give the nod to the Bush twins over the Kerry sisters. However, Vegas says the odds-on favorite is the Kerry clan in a cat fight.


So what's to be done with all these numbers? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Pay them no mind. Vote on the issues, not on what some wonk stationed outside a convenience store in Waterloo, Iowa, says regarding the rising tide of whatshisname's campaign.

The only numbers that really matter are that on Nov. 2 you go to the polls and vote.

That and keep a bottle of Pepto-Bismol around, because the next morning half of you are going to have a very upset stomach.

(All numbers and figures in this article were gathered through telepathy and are subject to a 100 percent margin of error due to the weather.)

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533

For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
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