Those who live by the polls...

By Greg Brook


The mayor is up for re-election and doesn't want to do anything without first checking the polls to see what the voters think about it. But is he too busy checking the polls to perform his other duties, such as instituting the proposed Civil Defence earthquake plan? When an earthquake does strike, he discovers too late that you can't win on every poll.


Mayor – diffident, always lets his own opinions be shaped by others
Philippa, Jim & Karen – his key advisors


Mayor: Well, I have to make sure I do the right thing - don't I? (He says last phrase as if he's not sure and needs re-affirming).

Philippa: For sure! It's only a week before the election and the voters have all got to see their Mayor doing and saying exactly what they think he should be doing and saying.

Mayor: Yes, but what is that exactly? I mean, this business with the water supply. It could easily put rates up by 10%. I keep getting asked what I'm going to do and I have to keep putting people off and saying, "We're still waiting for an in-depth report on that issue." Then they start asking: "Don't you know what's the right thing to do?" and you've told me not to answer that.

Jim: Well, Karen should have that in-depth report for you very soon, Howard. She was working on the final figures when I went past her office ten minutes ago.

Mayor: Good! I have to know what to do there. Now how about these polls you've been working on today? How do things look?

(Phillipa and Jim both open up folders and start quoting from them.)

Philippa: My poll shows that 54% of eligible voters approve, or highly approve, of your achievements as mayor.

Jim:  Although my poll shows that only 12% think you should keep doing things in the same way.

Philippa: You're rating highest with people from the following groups (Mayor pretends to greet each category of person): people over 60...

Jim:  ... parents with three children under five ...

Philippa:  ... those with a lower educational achievement...

Jim:  ... and older professionals with a bach in Wanaka, a slight limp, and a dog named Derek.

Mayor: That's my dad!

Jim:  Whereas you rate lowest with the elderly...

Philippa  ... young families, especially those with three children under five...

Jim:  ... anyone yet to complete a tertiary degree ...

Philippa: ... and single mothers between 35 and 40 with an interest in horticulture, a daughter at Art School, a fence in need of repair and hedge-cutters that she would like returned, thank you very much.

Mayor: (worried): So these people that don't like me - apart from my next- door neighbour, of course - what is it exactly they think I should be doing?

Jim:   (after a pause): 76% of people who disapprove of you feel that you haven't been spending enough time working on the real issues.

Philippa: And 87% think that you spend too much time on ...err ... conducting polls.

Mayor: But I have to know what the people are thinking - don't I? (He’s looking for affirmation again.) I mean, this "real issues" stuff they think I should deal with, they're talking about all these reports on my desk here that say action is needed on such and such at a cost of X-hundred thousand dollars. They're all the same. Look at this one, for instance - a Civil Defence report into the lack of a citywide strategic plan in the event of an earthquake or other major disaster, in the unlikely event of an earthquake or other major disaster. Well, that sounds okay, doesn't it, but look at how much it would cost - $2m! Now, if there's one thing I've learnt from polling, it's that voters don't like their money being spent. (Karen enters, carrying a folder) Ah, Karen, the water supply report! Great! What's the bottom line?

Karen: Well, 35% of respondents aged between 18 and 25 ...

Mayor: Hold on, hold on. Does this in-depth report tell me what's the right thing to do, or is it just a poll of what people think?

Karen: It's a poll of what voters think!

Jim:  Come on, Howard! If we didn't do a poll, how could we find out what's the right thing to do?

Mayor:  I ... don't ... know.

(An earthquake hits, lights in the building flicker on and off, actors do synchronised stagger, chairs fall over, etc. They panic, apart from Karen who dives under a desk.)

Philippa: Earthquake!

Mayor: What do we do? What do we do?

Karen: Well 25% of respondents try to protect themselves from falling objects, but 75% feel free to run around like headless chickens.

Mayor: So that's what we should do?

Philippa: No, get under the table!

(Eventually things settle down, lights come back up. Jim tries the phone.)

Jim:  It's still working!

Mayor: Now what? I'm going to have to do something, aren't I?

Karen: Won't there be some sort of Civil Defence strategic plan that will have been activated?

Mayor and Phillipa:  Uhh...

Karen: You know the sort - everywhere has them now. They cost a bit to implement but everyone's glad when they're in place. (Pause) Do we not have one? Hey, read the polls! Everyone wants to be secure in an earthquake!

Philippa: But everyone wants money to be saved.

Jim:   (putting phone down) Big reports of damage coming in. The port area's been hardest hit. This could be a disaster.

Karen: It is a disaster!

Jim:  No, a disaster for the campaign! Only one week from the election! We've got to turn it around somehow - if we can.

Mayor: But how? We won't have much time before I'll have to make an announcement.

Philippa:  And we don't know what the voters think you should say! How can we do a poll in time!

Jim:   We could ask ourselves.

Philippa: Yes! We're voters too!

Karen: Okay, everyone. How do you feel about the earthquake - very satisfied? Satisfied? About average? Unsatisfied? Very unsatisfied?

(All hands go up, the Mayor’s last of all once he realises that's what everyone else is saying)

Philippa: Right. Now if you knew it was the Mayor's fault there was no organised plan to deal with the earthquake, would you still vote for him? Yes? (Mayor starts to put his hand up, then realises no one else is, so drops it. He starts to realise he doesn't agree with every poll) No? (The other three raise their hands.)

Jim:  And who would prefer to resign from the campaign team now, rather than in a week's time when he takes a pasting in the election?

(All apart from Mayor, raise their hands, then start to leave)

Mayor: What do you mean? There's an election coming up! I've got a speech to give! Who's going to tell me what the polls are saying?

Jim:  Howard, there's an important poll due out next week. You just do what that says, okay?

(Lights off.)


© Greg Brook (Dunedin City Baptist) August 2000
All rights reserved
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