No one from Augusta National Golf Club came to Washington yesterday for a news conference to announce the results of a poll the club commissioned to gauge public opinion on its males-only membership restriction. The poll indicated that 74 percent of 800 respondents said Augusta National "has the right to have members of one gender only."
Kellyanne Conway, president of Washington-based The Polling Company, said the survey, conducted Oct. 30 through Nov. 4, involved random dialing of adults nationwide based on race, ethnicity, gender and age. There were 48 questions, the second beginning with a recitation of the First Amendment.
Conway was accompanied on the Mayflower Hotel dais by three women, two of whom are Augusta natives -- caterer Vera Stewart and hospitality consultant Elaine Clark-Smith. They and Kimberly Schulde, author of "Guide to Feminist Organizations," each criticized the efforts of Martha Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations. Burk has led the campaign to persuade the club that operates The Masters and its chairman, William "Hootie" Johnson, to admit women.
Asked if the poll, with 11 questions specifically mentioning Burk, had been set up to lead respondents to pro-Augusta National responses, Conway said, "I'm not going to risk my reputation to have this poll come out a certain way because a client wants a certain result. . . . I'm not here to trash" Burk.
Said Burk, "It's ridiculous on its face that 70 percent of Americans support sex discrimination. It was pre-designed to get a certain result, and the result they've gotten has totally destroyed their credibility."
Tom Smith, a nationally known pollster at the University of Chicago, reviewed the poll and said it was "probably not high quality. . . . [It was] one-sided. . . . Some of the questions are seriously flawed and may have a clear slant to them. It is very unusual to personalize so many questions in terms of one person, Martha Burk."
On the positive side, he added, "the one side the poll emphasizes, free association, is an important perspective and one that should be well represented in a more balanced assessment of public opinion on this issue."