I was not at all surprised to get a phone call from a pollster the other day. The girl’s name was Bridget and the surprise was that I chose to go ahead and take the poll. Just five minutes, she said.
It started innocuously enough – my political affiliation: “Independent”, whether I’ve selected a candidate: “NO”. After a few of those, however, the survey (as it was termed) took a turn for the local representative race.
Was I familiar with the candidates? Bridget asked about each in turn, mispronouncing one name. From there, the questions changed from bland to leading. Would it make a difference in my vote if I were told via news stories or advertising that one candidate was tarred by association with Big Liberals Downstate? Was on a “tax and spend” mission? Had ties to “Washington liberals”? The list of questions was worded to make this candidate appear to share ideas perceived as negative to conservatives. No positives were advanced for my consideration in this hypothetical list.
Then the questions turned to the conservative candidate, whose name was pronounced correctly. Would it make a difference in my vote if I were told the candidate overcame hardships to achieve? If I were told..
That’s when I asked to speak to Bridget’s supervisor. Not only was the survey longer than the promised 5 minutes, it had become apparent to me that it was in reality an advertisement. Adam was a nice kid and swore that no one knew who paid for the survey. (Must be an invoicing nightmare, I suggested.) He would remove me from their call list.
So, what? Was this a ploy by one party to gain sympathy for either the touted or abused candidate? Was it a sincere attempt to find out what advertising might work at this point in the race?
A survey conducted by the Associated Press in May* shows 90% of voters dissatisfied with the political process as it exists. As my brother-in-law would say, “Reckon why!” (To be fair, at this time we were still in the Primary Wilderness and the poll may reflect more of that than the overall election.) Not only are we besieged by advertising that shows each candidate to be a demon of some kind unworthy to run for the meanest office, we are constantly told that those we have elected are bad people trying to ruin our country (or some portion of it) for personal gain.
I’ve watched folks I consider idealists run for office, only to be discouraged by the race and the “game” that managing our legal life has become. I’ve voted time after time for people who have won or lost, served well or poorly, achieved something or nothing. It is discouraging at best to examine humanity and our foibles. Who was it who said that one should not examine closely the making of sausage or law?
When did deceptive truth become the norm in elections? Maybe forever, I suppose sadly, along with its use in advertising in general. Unfortunately, our national greed is driving the dissemination of Untruth far and wide. The means vary from nuisance lawsuits that drag through the courts to deceptive headlines fed to hungry press sources that must now feed a 24/7 maw.
The criteria we might use to discern when we are being sold “a bill of rights, a bill of wrongs, a bill of goods” is as simple as the Rotary’s Four Way Test. Here it is:
- Is it the Truth?
- Is it Fair to all concerned?
- Will it build Goodwill and Better Friendships?
- Will it be Beneficial to all concerned?
I love this simple test. It’s hard not to see the bottom line there: we’re building a world, not buying a position.
So although social media will be involved in campaigns today as the railroad was involved in the 19th and 20th centuries, if we can use the 4 Way Test, we may yet pull through unscathed. Or not much scathed.
And if you can possibly stomach more than one source of rumor – I mean, news – please check out some you think you’ll love and some you think you’ll hate. Truth wears strange clothes sometimes. May the Force be with you. I mean, the 4-Way Test.
*Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research (hope it wasn’t conducted by phone…)