The State Fair poll

Posted: Oct 20, 2006 12:01 AM
The State Fair poll

Polls, polls, and more polls. By this stage of an election year, most political junkies have overdosed on polls, yet still can’t wait until the next one is released. Most of us like them as long as they are favorable to our side, but discount them when they give us bad news. I am one of those who tend to take them with a grain of salt no matter what they say.

All polls are not created equal. Some use solid methods that consistently yield figures pretty close to the actual vote results. Others are consistently wrong, but still manage to rate huge media coverage when released – especially when they show bad news for Republicans.

One informal “poll” that I have found to be at least as accurate as anything Gallop or Zogby has produced is something I call the State Fair Poll (a.k.a. the sticker poll). Every year my family attends the North Carolina State Fair and we always hit the Republican booth and load up on stickers for the various candidates, as well as those with general messages such as “Vote Republican.”

Earlier this week I made my annual pilgrimage to the state fair and once again attempted to conduct my amateur poll.

The most popular sticker at the GOP booth this year was one with a Ghostbusters style logo with Hillary’s name in a red circle with a slash through it. To get that sticker though, a one dollar contribution was suggested. (Republicans don’t expect to get something for nothing, after all). The second most popular was an attractive red, white and blue one from congressional candidate Vernon Robinson ( which, quite smartly, included a message about securing the borders.

It is usually pretty easy to tell who will win the November election by keeping a mental count of the number of people at the fair wearing stickers for each party. Most years about one out of every eight to ten people are wearing either Democrat or Republican stickers. This year, however, I only saw a total of about a dozen people wearing any type of political sticker. Out of the handful that I saw, only a couple were wearing Democrat stickers. The rest, including the hippie-looking chick that I would have wrongly guessed to be a hard core liberal, were wearing the Robinson and other GOP stickers. (So much for stereotypes.) Considering I was at the fair for over seven hours and saw thousands of people, it was a bit of a surprise to me that I did not spot more sticker wearers. There are no major statewide races in NC this year though, so this year is unlike many other election years.

In 2004, I wrote about my highly unscientific “sticker poll” as it pertained to the Bush v. Kerry race:

“For the first few hours I probably saw one Kerry sticker for every 20 Bush stickers… I did not make it to the political party booths until later in the evening... By the time we made it near that side of the grounds, I began seeing a Kerry sticker for every 2 or 3 Bush stickers. When I finally made it to the Republican booth, I learned that they ran out of Bush-Cheney stickers and signs around 5 p.m. People were still lining up though, waiting to get stickers for the various Republican state candidates to stick on their shirts and jackets and backpacks and strollers. The Kerry-Edwards booth, by the way, did have a few people around it, but no line and plenty of stickers and signs.”

My observations foretold the election outcome when Bush-Cheney carried North Carolina comfortably. That might seem a “no brainer” now, but with NC’s John Edwards on the ticket, there were some polls showing Kerry closing the gap to the low single digits in the final weeks of the campaign.

In 2004 it was easy to see the trend in my unscientific poll since there was high interest in the election, with many fairgoers wearing candidate and party stickers and buttons. This year, since very few people “stickered up,” what I learned was that here in North Carolina, since there are is no race for Senate or Governor (and obviously no Presidential one), there are not nearly as many people in full campaign mode as in previous years. At least not a lot of them outside of those like me who are always interested in politics. It will likely follow that voter turnout will be, as is typical in mid-term elections, fairly low.

I am sure that is not the case in a state like Virginia where the high profile race between George Allen and Jim Webb for Senate has drawn lots of national attention and has subjected television watchers in the state to a heavy barrage of campaign ads. But in other states like North Carolina, who wins or loses control of the House will be all about who has the best get-out-the-vote (GOTV) effort. Maybe that is why President Bush and Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman have seemed so optimistic lately in the face of so many discouraging polls. Or maybe Karl Rove has done some undercover reconnaissance at the state fairs. Come to think of it, I did see someone strangely familiar in the funnel cake line.