The Best of Creative Computing Volume 2 (published 1977)

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Polls, Pols, and Power: The Computer on the Hustings (polling, voter identification)

graphic of page

The computer letter, asking for immediate and future contributions, had four
blank checks, a mailing label addressed to the recipient, and an application for
a button identifying the wearer as an early McGovern supporter.

particular attention. Such donor lists can bring a response from between 10 and
25 percent of the addressees. Governor George Wallace of Alabama has virtually
perfected this technique, raising millions of dollars in small contributions
from "just folks" over the years.

But no major fund raising effort can be a folksy, backroom operation. It must be
highly sophisticated, with computerized letters-perhaps mentioning the recipient
by name in the body of the letter, perhaps not-going to lists of special
interest voters, who usually get a basic letter with variant paragraphs for
different groups. Such an endeavor might also include an information storage
system retaining the names of contributors and the amounts they contribute, and
capable of purging those who prove unresponsive after a few tries.

Perhaps the greatest computerized fund raising coup was the brainchild of Thomas
L. Collins of the New York advertising firm of Rapp, Collins, Stone and Adler.
During the 1972 presidential election Collins sent out a mailing on behalf of
Senator George McGovern (for obvious reasons candidates with a strong
ideological identification do best in this sort of drive) to a prime list of
past and potential contributors at a cost of $25,000. The computer letter,
asking for immediate and future contributions, had four blank checks, a mailing
label addressed to the recipient, and an application for a button identifying
the wearer as an early McGovern supporter. Americans, it seems, don't like to
take something-not even a campaign button-for nothing, because 100,000 donors
sent in $1 million in response to this mailing.


Polling: With enough money a campaign can go in any direction its directors
choose; the problem is in defining the direction that will be most effective.
The computer and its legitimate offspring, the poll, are there to help answer
this all important preliminary question.

The kinds of polls available are about as many as the number of campaigns in
which they have been used. Most depend on random samples of 100 or more names,
below which the data is most suitable, culled from census lists, the telephone
book, random digit dialing, or from any predefined list. The sample is screened
to weed out the noncitizen, the unregistered and the non-voter. From there the
pollster will frame questions designed to tell his client what he wants or needs
to know. A few examples should suffice:

Asking preliminary demographic questions can yield a profile of the electorate's

Asking whether the respondent will vote in the forthcoming election can yield a
maximum likely turnout.

Collating the results of these two questions can yield a profile of likely
voters, indicating not only how many people will vote but also what kind of
people will vote.

Asking the respondent's predisposition toward the candidates can yield a model
of the undecided voters similar to the model for all probable voters.

Richard M. Hochhauser, a former vice president of Cambridge-Plesser, a research
opinion consulting firm, and now president of RMH Research, Inc., outlines the
six basic kinds of political polls, any combination of which may be used in an
individual campaign.

1. An Issue Definition Poll seeks to ascertain what the electorate at large
and/or some portion of it (the most likely voters, various age groups, various
religions or ethnic groups, probable supporters or opponents, etc.) sees as the
most serious problems facing the city, state or nation. The pollster can gather
the necessary data either by asking relevant questions directly or by providing
a list of issues and asking the respondent to rank them.

2. A Bench Mark Poll, conducted with as much as a year's lead time, provides the
information with which to screen the electorate, classify the voters
demographically, develop a media profile (i.e., establish what the voters read
and watch), determine the degree of the candidate's name recognition and the
public's knowledge of him, evaluate the public's image and opinion of the
candidate, establish the importance of the forthcoming election, and measure the
depth of conviction of committed voters and the importance of party
identification. With this information at hand a prospective candidate has the
wherewithal to decide whether to go ahead with his campaign and, if so, what
kind of pose to strike and what kind of campaign to run.

3. A Tracking Poll updates the information in a bench mark poll sometime before
election day. Since much of the cost of polling is devoured by actual
interviewing time, the use of the same sample as in the bench mark poll can save
a campaign considerable money.

4. A Target Voter Survey selects a sample of voters whom the campaign wishes
especially to reach. It may try to measure penetration into the opposition's
supporters, or the degree of the campaign's effect on undecided voters or on
some other subdivision of the total electorate.

5. There are two kinds of Communications Surveys. One, the Theme Effectiveness
Survey, is used to determine the kinds of ads a campaign should use. There may
be three possible ways of reelecting an aging incumbent, three thematic hooks on
which to hang the entire campaign: "Senator Smith, a man of experience and
accomplishment," "Senator Smith's stand on the issues," or "Youth can't keep up
with the activities of Senator Smith." A theme effectiveness survey can help
decide which would be most persuasive. The other, an Ad Effectiveness Survey, is
used to determine the ability of specific ads, already released, to accomplish
their desired effect. Obviously ads may have different impacts on different
elements in a constituency, so a communications survey employs various screening
questions to measure an ad's effectiveness with specific groups of voters.
Furthermore, voters in different media markets may react differently. To take
these differences into account in statewide or nationwide elections, the same
poll is often conducted separately in each relevant media market. (Earlier polls
may also be duplicated in as many media markets as funds allow.)

6. The last type of poll is the one candidates, campaign managers, and
consultants like to conduct least, the Post Mortem Survey, which seeks to
discover why the candidate lost. Actually, such polls are not always lamentable
events. Often they are a part of the process of planning for ultimate victory, a
process which sometimes extends over more than one term.

Voter Identification

Voter Identification: Hochhauser and those like him deal primarily with
categories of voters, generalizations extrapolated from interviews with
individuals. But there is another way of looking at voters, other categories of
voters with which candidates and campaign managers must deal. These
classifications define voters in a way that allows dealing with them
specifically and individually rather than generally.

One such division is party registration, which is part of the public record and
readily available at any Board of

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