I’m sick and tired of polls and I’m not going to take it any more!

Published April 1, 2000

It used to be said that figures lie and liars figure. No more.

Today they become pollsters . . . and the manipulators for whom they work. This is particularly true now that we are under the “perpetual full-moon” of an election year, where lunacy reigns supreme. And, I swear, if anyone floats another meaningless, obviously wrong and/or obviously rigged “environmental” poll across my desk, I will [I was persuaded by cooler heads to delete this part].

I will cite just two examples of what not to send me. That way you, the brightest and best-informed readers in the land, can advise your slower counterparts how to avoid the un-named fate I have in mind.

One is the Heritage Forest Campaign survey financed by the Audubon Society with grants from the Pew Foundation to determine attitudes regarding the Clinton-Gore administration’s roadless forests plan. Now, I ask you, would anyone have to read the results of this survey to know how it came out?

I’ll report some of the results anyway.

Amazingly, 76 percent of the survey’s respondents supported the plan to close over 40 million acres to most human activity; 19 percent said they were opposed and 5 percent didn’t have a clue. If you look at the latest Census Bureau statistics by geographic area, 19 percent is remarkably close to the number of people living near roadless areas and most likely to be hurt by the proposal. Hmmmm.

And–stand by for this news flash–a greater percentage of Democrats supported the proposal than Republicans.

You also have to wonder about the way the questions in the survey were phrased, and in what sequence they were asked. Consider the contradictory results the poll offers. While 87 percent agreed that “protecting the last third of our wild National Forest Lands for future generations is important” (nothing loaded about that survey response), nearly half of the respondents view the plan as a Clinton-Gore administration land grab. That response was reported at the very end of the survey summary, following a dismissive statement about its importance.

Some 58 percent of survey respondents said they would be more likely to vote for their current Congressman if he or she supported the Clinton-gore plan; only 17 percent say they would be less likely. All together now . . .

. . . can you say, push polling?

This is just one small example of what will earn you my wrath (to put it kindly). Another little gem is the “Millennium” survey, billing itself as an “unprecedented study, one of the world’s largest public opinion surveys.”

What would be unprecedented, particularly in an election year, would be a straightforward, scientifically conducted poll that seeks honest answers, rather than those answers the poll-takers and their clients want to find.

The Millennium survey results offer an interesting contradiction. While 62 percent of respondents were “very” or “mainly” satisfied with the state of the environment, another 62 percent feel the government has done too little to address environmental issues facing the country. Huh?

This paradox is eerily similar to responses on which the Clinton-Gore administration’s 1992 “It’s the economy, Stupid” campaign was built.

In the early 1990s, Americans told poll-takers their economic situations and outlook were just fine . . . but they thought the economy in general was in trouble–even though the country was in the second year of an economic upswing. Could it be that lying, false advertising, and push-polling actually work, convincing people that some aspect of our national health is in trouble when it is not? Apparently.

By the way, 67 percent of respondents to the new Millennium survey considered it more important to protect the environment than to ensure economic growth–even though we have dramatically improved the state of our environment over the last half of this century.

It’s not the economy now, stupid. It’s the environment.

Could this be because Al “Earth in the Balance” Gore is running for President rather than Bill Clinton? Gore, of course, predicts planetary apocalypse if we don’t go back to living in caves and picking berries and nuts for a living? And it’s his supporters who are sending me all these stupid polls.

You can stop sending them. I get the point. Apparently this year’s campaigns are going to turn on environmental issues . . . and there is precious little time to build an environmental message based on the truth.