Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

December 2008

Caller ID

Technology has a way of yielding surprises, doesn’t it?

A most interesting fellow and great friend of mine used to answer his phone occasionally by saying, “Is that you?” That used to be a funny line, but now, Caller ID has reached a tipping point so even un-witty people can answer, “Hello, Tenney!”

With cell phone usage soaring, scientific polling has become more difficult. For years I have maintained that business people have been under-represented in polling samples because canvassers are instructed to hang up when a business answers. Today, with so many more home-based businesses, the problem is probably greater.

I did some calling during the recent political season. Using enhanced voter registration lists, I was amazed to discover almost no one answers a phone these days. Depending on the objective of the call, the script often had the canvasser not leave a message. So during a two-hour shift, I would have few chances to speak.

My conclusion: Something like 90 percent of the calls placed didn’t reach anyone, and 90 percent of those calls went to some form of voice mail. At least two or three times a session, the phone I was using would ring, and the person calling wanted to know who I was and why I had called. Because my phone-bank phone didn’t have Caller ID, I didn’t know who was calling.

Over the course of the month I spent making these calls, I was impressed by the preparation behind the calling lists. Each day the lists were updated so that by the last week, we were only calling “undecideds” and chronic “no-answers.” On Nov. 4 (even late in the afternoon), we were calling people who had requested absentee ballots but not returned them.

Two types of calls stand out in my mind and are the basis of my extra point.

The first call reached a woman who was, as Paddy Chayefsky would say, “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.” It seems she was getting swarmed with calls from political organizations on her cell phone and she was losing her precious minutes. Apparently, she supplied her cell number when she registered to vote, and now the Dems, Reps, Inds, etc. all have it.

With no preamble, she bellowed: “Take me off your list!”

‘I’ll try,” I replied, “but while I have you, would you mind telling me if you’ve made up your mind on which presidential candidate ....”

Breaking in, she said, “No,” and screamed, “Get me off your list, you idiot!” Somewhere in there, she raved on about her loss of minutes.

The second call could have been to the same woman, you’d think, because she claimed I was the 26th call she had received on behalf of my candidate. She, too, demanded that her name be purged from our list and called me an idiot when I asked if she’d decided on a candidate.

So here’s the extra point. The first call was placed two weekends before Nov. 4, and the second call was placed at 3:45 p.m. on Nov. 3. Both were on lists of “undecided” voters. Actually getting to talk to an “undecided” voter was the prize in any campaign office, and those names were never purged from any list. To get off those lists and stop the calls, all an undecided voter had to do was “just do it” — decide — or at least tell the callers they had decided, but didn’t want to reveal their decisions.