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I Am A Statistic!


I’ve always wanted to take part in a national opinion poll, but my tendency not to pick up the phone unless I know who’s calling – and on two others occasions, the fact that I’m not an American citizen – has previously prevented that possibility. But yesterday, I answered the phone on a whim to find Zogby International on the line, wanting my opinion about everything from the war on terror to my opinion on tattoos. Yes, tattoos.

Apart from what I take to be the recurring questions about the President’s performance and whether the country is heading in the right direction, the particular political focus in this poll was on Social Security and the Supreme Court nomination. In fact, the only question in the entire poll that invited an entirely free answer was what reasons I would offer for opposing the nomination of John Roberts as a Supreme Court Justice. (I responded, “personal political preference.”) Otherwise, the (multiple) choice of answers were so confined within a predictable little packet of possibilities that I found the process disappointing.

I did refuse to answer one question on the basis of it being entirely hypothetical: “If the USA Government was to place all its resources to prevent just one of these possible calamities, which should it be?” And I was disappointed that two of the questions about tattoos involved the influence of celebrities. (I refuse to honor celebrity culture.) I was able, however, to state that I “agree” that tattoos are an expression of art, and that, were I to get a tattoo (of my football team’s crest), I would opt to place it on the arm. Sadly, there was no corresponding question about where tattoos look best on members of the opposite sex.

I figured the hard-of-hearing old guy asking me the questions doesn’t get paid too well and probably can’t find too much other work these days, so I gave him a clean report when a supervisor came on afterwards to ask my opinion of their opinion-taker. (What do you expect from an opinion poll company?) But he did try and influence one of my responses.

Q: Do you expect a major terrorist attack to take place in the United States within…
a) The next year?
b) The next two years?
c) The next five years?
d) Not at all.

I opted for “two years” based on my belief that our enemies want to keep us guessing, possibly lull us back into false security, and also my unstated-in-their-question hope that attacks may be planned sooner but nonetheless end up foiled or postponed. My poller responded that he “would have said ‘in the next year,'” based on “the people living here who want to see America go down the drain” and “the bombs in London.” I told him that, coming from London, I could make up my own mind – and wasn’t that the point of an opinion poll?

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You do have to wonder about these polls. Here’s what I just found on the front of Zogby’s web site, from an item posted on July 15:

“With Saturday’s release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince set for midnight, a new Zogby Interactive poll indicates that U.S. publisher Scholastic is set to sell books at a brisk pace, with two-thirds (66%) of the three-in-ten (29%) adults who’ve read past “Potter” books saying they plan to read the sixth installment.”

Scholastic prints 10.6 million hardbacks – an all-time record and then some – and Zogby needs conduct a 6800-person opinion poll to conclude they’ll sell at “a brisk pace”??? Oh, and you mean to say that people who’ve read the previous Harry Potter books – the most popular series in publishing history – figure they’ll read the new one? Wow, thanks for letting me in on the big secret.
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Our 9-year old Campbell returned safe and sound from his three week trip to England clutching his own copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which my mother bought for him somewhere round dawn the day it came out, July 16. He finished it yesterday. To his parents’ congratulations on reading an entire 600-page book in ten days, he merely responded, with the kind of “don’t you know anything?” attitude that seems prevalent in nine year olds, “Well, that’s because it’s so short.” The last Harry Potter book, you may not be aware, came in at almost 900 pages. The Half-Blood Prince, is a mere airplane novella.

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And while on the subject of lengthy books, surveys and the like, we got the first response to our Ultimate Keith Moon Quiz within three hours of posting it yesterday! That’s impressive. But, remember, the quiz is not first-past-the-post: it’s the person with the most accurate answers as of August 29. The quiz is here. The answers are not. Enjoy your weekend.

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