Monday, February 1, 2010

Election Deciding Questions

These are questions that will decide the next presidential election. They re-elected Clinton and they will be used to try and re-elect Obama. They are not weighty questions and have nothing to do with politics or policy. If you are reading this, odds are that you will never be called to answer them.

The questions were developed by an institution most of us have never heard of SRI, Stanford Research Institute. They were generated in response to the social upheaval of the 1960s. It was during this time when society itself was deemed evil and conforming to it a cause of psychological sickness. The resulting explosion in self exploration, professed anti-materialism and loosening of social mores led to a marketing conundrum. Marketing had traditionally sold products based on simple demographics and defined needs. How could one effectively market anything if everyone wanted to be seen as unique and anti-materialistic? SRI managed to solve this riddle by developing an engaging questionnaire that took only about ten minutes to fill out.

While most of us like to think of ourselves as unique and special, modern marketing has managed to classify us into roughly eight main types utilizing approximately 40 questions. While every major marketing firm has their own flavor of questionnaire, the questions are basically the same. They are not even difficult questions: “Do you like to meet outrageous people?” Even to someone such as myself who does not have a TV and never answers my home phone (Yes, I know about the no call list but it has loopholes like alumni associations and politicians.) to avoid the barrage of marketing; the questions can be somewhat compelling. They are warm questions that say: “I care about you. Please tell me more about yourself.” Maybe not each and every question but taken as a whole they tend to flatter a person’s weakest point, their vanity.

Better than the questions are the labels they apply to you. My primary type was “Innovator” and my secondary type was “Achiever.” Not only had the survey listened intently to me, it understood me. This is the type of friend that I would trust. Someone that knew and cared about me this much might even be able to recommend a good brand of toothpaste or presidential candidate.

If you do not believe me, take the survey for yourself (If you are leery of putting in your e-mail address, use a fake one):

Unfortunately for me, when it comes to politics, this friend is particular. He only cares about the undecided and, even then, only in battleground districts. In places like Ohio, these locations have been narrowed down to certain households in certain neighborhoods.

It is too bad that he is not my friend because he has a heck of a sense of humor. You can thank him for the scenes of Clinton/Gore dressed in hip waders stomping through muck with dead ducks draped on their shoulders. You can also thank him for the Obama PBA (Pro Bowling Association) world tour. On the policy side, he is responsible for such comedic mysteries as the V Chip. This is the prankster that often has us wondering when we look at our president: “Did I just see that/hear him say that?”

While it might seem like all fun and games, there is a method to the madness. The name of the game is taking that undecided person and validating them and their lifestyles. In fact the name of the game is literally called “Life Styles” or “Values” marketing. If you are an undecided voter living in a battleground Florida neighborhood who enjoys nude skydiving, guess who is going to be landing buck naked on your yard live on national television (Answer: Not Me.)? If you are concerned about bugs getting splattered on your windshield, guess who is going to propose the National Bug Windshield Diverter Automobile Protection Act.

In short, our democracy right now rests on a series of about forty questions that will be answered by a small group of people that cannot make up their minds and who require constant validation of their life styles and values. The best analogy that I can come up with is the Twilight Zone episode where the 5 year old got every wish granted and ended up terrorizing himself and the whole world.

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