Every living American pollster worth his weight in computer printouts will confess to an irresistible infatuation with election-day or voter-exit polls.
These are the surveys of real live voters as they leave their polling places, usually conducted by the television networks. The results of these polls enable the network analysts, on the 11:30 specials, to tell the rest of us which presidential candidate captured the Cranky-Bald vote in today's primary, and why.
In order to qualify as a pollster, you must first memorize the professional creed: a poll is merely a snapshot of an electorate at some point in time; a poll does not and cannot predict the outcome of the election. Election day polls are obviously very different. Instead of interviewing registered voters who tell the pollsters they will vote and then do not, the election day survey interviews only real live voters who have already voted. And these people are free of what the pollsters aptly call a winner bias. They do not have to defend their choice because they do not know at the time they are questioned whether their guy won or lost. That's why pollsters cherish the data from these surveys and pore over it for days.
CBS News and The New York Times have jointly conducted a number of such polls in the primary states. A review of their results establishes pretty conclusively that Sen. Edward Kennedy has succeeded remarkably in getting his message across to Democratic primary voters almost everywhere.
After some early rhetoric about Leadership, Kennedy settled on a couple of very specific campaign themes in his challenge to President Carter. The economy, Kennedy argued, was the most important national issue and the president was doing an all-around unacceptable job of handling it. Kennedy urged the adoption of stiff wage and price controls to curb inflation.
The CBS voter-exit polls in states as diverse as New Hamspshire, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania demonstrate fairly conclusively that Democratic primary voters have been listening to, and basically agreeing with, what Kennedy has had to say.
In all three of those states, Democratic voters agreed that the economy and inflation easily eclipse all other issues in importance. They also agreed that President Carter deserved failing marks for his handling of the economy. In fact, the best rating the president received was 3-to-2 negative in Wisconsin, compared with worse than 2 1/2-to-1 negative to positive marks in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. A strong majority in all three states favored a mandated freeze on wages and prices. Kennedy, who took some early heat about his jumbled syntax, is entitled to feel pretty good about his effectiveness in delivering a political message.
What the president cannot feel very good about are the discomforting answers, from the Democratic primary voters of these three states, to the question of which candidate the voters would refuse to vote for in November. Carter was named by 21 percent of the Democrats in New Hampshire, 24 percent in Wisconsin and 29 percent in Pennsylvania. The problem confronting Kennedy is that his scores in each state were worse: 34 percent of New Hampshire Democrats, 36 percent of Wisconsin Democrats and 31 percent of Pennsylvania Democrats told CBS they could not vote for Kennedy in November.
If he has not already, Kennedy must face what just about every other 48-year-old American man has had to accept: that he will not be elected president of the United States in 1980. The fact is that Kennedy is an unacceptable alternative to an incumbent who himself is not particularly acceptable to Democratic voters.
A few years ago, there was a bruising battle in the United Auto Workers for the regional directorship of Region 2, which extends from Cleveland east to western Pennsylvania. The incumbent director, Danny Forchione, as part of his reelection campaign, had navy-blue nylon windbreakers presented to each of the voting delegates from Region 2 at the Atlantic City convention.
The handsome jackets had, on the front, the UAW logo above the identifying Region 2. On the back of each, in letters large enough to be read from Cleveland, was emblazoned: "DANNY FORCHIONE, REGIONAL DIRECTOR." The jackets were a big hit and, on election day, a big majority of the delegates were wearing them.
The UAW has a long tradition of open voting, in which the delegates express their choices by walking to one side or the other of the meeting room. A large majority of the Region 2 delegates -- a majority of whom were wearing their navy-blue windbreakers -- marched to the side of Forchione's opponent and Danny Forchione was retired as director of Region 2.
When the shock had subsided, the defeated favorite's campaign manager offered an explanation for the upset: "They liked the windbreakers, but they did not like Danny."
Windbreakers then; wage-price controls now.