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September 23, 2008

Election Year Low-jinks

Roy Meachum

The Harvard of the West is the catch-phrase prized by California's Stanford University. By whatever name, a recent survey designed and supervised in the school's Palo Alto academic laboratories is, by any standard, the dumbest thing I've encountered going back through nearly 60 years in journalism.


"Deep-seated racial misgivings could cost Barack Obama the White House if the election is close..." That's how an Associated Press article begins. The sentence continues: "...according to an AP-Yahoo News poll." The wire service attempts to justify the thousands the survey cost. In fact, the Yahoo Internet service and its partner were sold a bill of swill by faculty from the Harvard of the West.


The survey-takers threw out such words as "lazy" and "violent" in association with African Americans. Depending on the answers Stanford says we must consider the all-white respondents racists; they might even vote for the Democratic nominee but they're bigots, nonetheless.


"More than a third of all white Democrats and independents – voters Obama can't win the White House without – agreed with at least negative adjective about blacks, according to the survey, and they are significantly less likely to vote for Obama than those who don't have these views."


It's a slender reed for trying to hit a home run; but there they are, for whatever reason, swinging away. They succeed best when the sponsors control stories' access to the public.


No one can deny that racism is part of this presidential race; but do voters in the once-Democratic South turned Republicans really plan to nix the Illinois senator solely because of his color? That proposition denigrates people below the Mason-Dixon Line; it condemns them to congenital stupidity with absolutely no proof.


It's very true that when I grew up Louisiana treated "Negroes," as they were politely called, as second-class citizens, or worse. Only New Orleans and the Cajun parishes saved my native state from sinking to the depths of the Bible Belt. There, Holy Scripture was used to justify cruelty and persecution because some people had darker skin.


Furthermore, how can any person's reaction to a single word determine the respondent's attitude toward the Harvard-educated Democratic nominee? The senator certainly works hard: how else would he have come this far? His bare arms, seen in taping of his basketball prowess, seem incapable of violence toward his fellow man.


At the same time, other polls suggest the senator can not win because he is a Muslim: look at his name! In that sense, outrageous statements from his former pastor emphasize his allegiance to a Chicago Christian church. Maybe he would have been better served had the Rev. Jeremiah Wright been kept around to remind voters his one-time parishioner does not follow Islam.


Can people react to candidates, Republican and Democratic, with a single-item agenda? You bet! Some folks will cast ballots for Sen. John McCain entirely because he belongs to the GOP. The same truth applies to those who support Senator Obama.


But when a one-word survey purports to show how women and men feel on any given subject, then it's time to call out those designated to catch up in their nets not the people but those who justify such dim-witted methodology.


Stanford, I'm talking about your political scientist Paul Sniderman "who helped analyze the exhaustive survey," according to the AP story.


The use in this context of the phrase "exhaustive survey" makes me want to laugh in Stanford's collective face. But going to Palo Alto costs more than 50 cents. Even reduced to a single penny, I would prefer feeding the poll to Pushkin. But the boy English pointer is too smart to eat mere paper.


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