Pollsters, forget your focus groups. consultants, toss away your tracking polls. Campaign managers, abandon your game strategies. I am in unique possession of absolutely foolproof information about the results of the 1996 election. I have access to an infallible campaign crystal ball that has been tried, tested and proved right over and over again. Ladies and gentlemen, meet my father, my own vox pop, Robert B. Stengel, 75, a man who has voted in every presidential election since 1944 and has never once voted for a losing candidate. Not once. Ever.
A child of the Depression, he first pulled the lever for F.D.R. Then, like the American electorate, he zigzagged between Democrat and Republican: Truman, then Ike, J.F.K. and L.B.J., before deciding that Nixon was the one. He returned to the Democratic fold with Jimmy Carter, voted twice for the Gipper, once for George Bush and then opted for Bill Clinton last time around.
In short, my old man is a one-man national sample without a margin for error, the ultimate swing voter who always veers in the popular direction. He's a die-hard Democrat, a Main Street Republican, an ornery independent, a Reagan Democrat, a Rockefeller Republican. He is the one voter every pollster, every ad maker, every candidate seeks to speak to--John Q. Public.
As a result of this family asset, I sometimes get lazy and don't bother interviewing the man or woman in the street. If I want to know what Americans think, I ask my father. So, Dad, what do you make of all this fuss about campaign-spending abuses and Indonesian billionaires? "Ah, they both do that stuff," he says."It's the system." And what about the attacks on Clinton's character? "You know, I don't like to hear about that kind of thing."
Bob, as everyone calls my father, was born in Brooklyn in 1921, was the first person in his family to attend college, served in World War II, went into the family business and is now semi-retired. He reads the papers, watches television news, goes to the movies occasionally, never looks at a book and wouldn't miss a weekend football game--unless, of course, he's playing golf. He balances his checkbook, pays his taxes on time and drives a fancy foreign-made car that is his only extravagance.
Envious pollsters who are forced to use a much larger sampling might say my father's streak is just luck or that he voted for the right candidate for the wrong reasons. But my father votes in the majority for the same reason the majority does: he likes the winner better. "I vote for the best man regardless of the party," says my old man. His method is not scientific. He may watch a debate--and zip around the dial during the lulls. He doesn't really vote his pocketbook, at least not in a what's-in-it-for-me way. "I want someone who I think is talking to me," he says.