Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Talking to a different kind of exit pollster after casting my vote in the Wisconsin primary
I found the voting experience last night deeply moving, all joking about cows in polling places aside. There were more than twenty kids sitting at tables filling out their same day registration forms. This happens sometimes in presidential elections, but I've never seen it in a primary. Everything they've said about Barack Obama bringing new voters into the process certainly seems to be true here in Wisconsin, where he pulled 17,000 people at Madison's Kohl Center just a few days ago, and where he went on to win by a landslide last night. Clearly, this was no ordinary ho-hum primary.
The sense that something unusual was afoot was reinforced when I was interviewed by my first exit pollster. But I found that Abbie Pickett, who braved a cold Wisconsin night armed only with her notebook and a pen, was not your usual exit pollster. She did not work for CNN or any of the news organizations. Instead, she was researching how people get their news for a paper in her research methods course at Edgewood College.
She asked about my media preferences for news, which include print and broadcast journalism but lean heavily toward the Internet and the blogosphere. She said so many people had told her the same thing, she was thinking about writing her paper about whether the Internet was replacing print newspapers.
She concluded by asking about how I had voted and I said that, although most guys in Madison did not seem to be voting for Hillary Clinton, this Madison Guy did -- although I probably would have voted for Edwards had he still been in the race, to try to give the platform a bit of a leftward nudge. I said the Democrats were lucky to have had three excellent candidates this year, and I was excited about voting for Obama in the fall.
That concluded the survey but we talked a bit more, sharing our mixed feelings about Hillary. I said I felt she had earned my support overall, but that I was troubled about her early stands on the war. Abbie and I shared our disappointment about her Iraq votes, but agreed that it was clear she had felt that as a woman trying to become commander in chief she felt she had to vote the way she did and not look back.
That's when Abbie told me she was an Iraq vet. Her Wisconsin National Guard unit was called up and she did a tour of duty there. She said she just couldn't believe the kind of media coverage the war was getting when she returned. She was so outraged that she decided to return to school to find out more about media and what can be done to improve the situation. I told her I was impressed by her dedication, and thanked her for her service. And she recommended iava.org, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America website, as a place to find out more about the veterans of these wars and their issues.
I was moved by this young woman who had returned from a hellhole I can only try to imagine, standing there in the cold night outside Madison's Dudgeon School, looking for answers. I was also moved by the kids inside the polling place. The war has not gone away as an issue. The country is sick of it, and our young people are reminding us we have to deal with it. The winds of change finally are sweeping across the country, and it seems fitting that it's increasingly likely the next Democratic presidential candidate will be the man who opposed that obscenity from the start.