Me Against The Pollsters

It's much safer to stay here in Washington and rely on the polls for your readings on what the people out there actually are thinking. Do that and you will remain convinced that Americans are bored to tears with Clinton scandals and almost completely absorbed in enjoying their own lives.

Well, I've made the mistake recently of venturing out into what we political writers sometime call the hinterlands not once but twice - once to the West Coast and more recently into the Midwest. During that time I listened in on or was a part of a number of conversations. And I also asked questions of many people.

What I heard amazed me, even irritated me: What right had these people to say things that were at odds with my poll-driven conventional wisdom?

Yes, people are bored with the scandals. Indeed, they are always saying so. But the boredom I expected from turning to the polls for my information was one of disinterest in Washington affairs - of a public that spent its time watching the stock market and eyeing the growing corn and the fattening pigs. Not so.

Sure, I heard a lot of talk about "these things going on forever," and of the overly slow probing, as it was widely being perceived, of Kenneth Starr. And these comments would invariably be interspersed with remarks about how boring it all was.

But no matter what the pollsters are telling us, I've come home with the strong impression that the public is keeping a close watch on the unraveling events in Washington. In fact, people seem to be, in a rather perverse way, finding pleasure in the protracted saga of a beleaguered president. They particularly enjoy saying how bored they are with it - saying this over and over again, usually with utter disgust.

So my reading, unscientific of course, but at least gained from first-hand reporting, is that the polls are wrong. They see a detached-from-Washington public, absorbed in its own affairs - much of this attitude being brought about by being turned off by the scandal stories.

But I've now found a public that may be telling pollsters this while really keeping a close eye on and and intense interest in the Washington scene.

I think this sort of public thinking has, at least up to now, resulted in a kind of tentative judgment on President clinton - one in which most people are sticking with a president they have come to rather like. But I found no enthusiasm for Mr. clinton out there. It was mostly a "let's wait and see" approach that came through in many comments I heard.

My findings turned up mixed indicators of Mr. Clinton and his future. Should the president be able to roll along, month after month, with his feet dug in and with Mr. Starr unable, as they say, to "nail" him for an illegality? Well, the public will, indeed, stay with him. But it seems to me that this "bored" public may later rise up out of its apparent apathy and denounce a president they came to think has broken the law.

Again, I know that I'm defying the findings of those scientific pollsters with their widespread interviewing. And I concede my nosing around was quite limited.

But I'm a columnist who states his opinion on matters of the day. And I've done some sniffing around - much as I did with great gusto years ago as a reporter. And my sniffing has led me to presenting these observations.

Yes, whether I'm entitled to or not I've become convinced that there's no new, lasting public tolerance emerging - one that will put up with anything this president is accused of doing, even if there is strong indication that he has done it. There is latent outrage out there, among those who keep saying, over and over again, how bored they are with what's going on in Washington.

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