CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — Candidates may be whistling in the dark when they use the old line, "The only poll that matters is the one on election day." But don't we all have doubts - be frank, Attorney General John Ashcroft can't hear you - about preelection polls that turn democracy into a horse race without a Seabiscuit?
Pollsters keep asking people to split hairs on how interested they are - very, somewhat, not, or don't know - in inescapable matters like the economy and healthcare. Perhaps we'd have more confidence if you and I defined the questions and multiple choices.
1. How interested are you in whether a candidate tells the truth?
* Really, really interested.
* Fairly interested.
* That's his or her business.
* Nobody's perfect.
2. How interested are you in whether a candidate's personal life is in keeping with his or her public persona?
* Not sure how we'd find out for sure.
* Don't mind casting the first stone.
3. How interested are you in the police records of a candidate's family members?
* Not every brother is a keeper.
* Only if the candidate was caught, too.
4. How interested are you in the way a candidate tries to get out of responsibility for words or actions in the past?
* Less than in how he/she tries to get out of responsibility for what he/she is still doing.
5. How interested are you in whether a candidate can debate without notes or teleprompters?
* It's the content, even if candidates have to read what's prepared for them.
* Anyone could blank under those lights.
6. How interested are you in whether a candidate plays the race card, Hispanic card, class card, senior card, youth card, gender card, environmental card, union card, corporate card, bilingual card, or unilateral card?
* Depends on which pack I'm in.
* Would fake being surprised.
7. Finally, for now, how interested are you in whether a candidate does not change his or her views before different audiences; i.e. NOW? NRA? Jay Leno?
* Would need to know which views.
* A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen.
Test any candidate according to your answers above, and don't worry about New Hampshire.
• Roderick Nordell is a former Monitor staff editor.