Meet the "soft supporters"

Published October 8, 2004 10:30PM (EDT)

Who are the lucky ducks who get to put a question to Bush and Kerry tonight? Twenty or more actual St. Louis-area residents will go to a microphone at Wash. U. and ask the candidates questions -- and only moderator Charlie Gibson will know ahead of time what they plan to say. The involvement of regular old folks adds an element of unpredictability in the only debate that will be a "town-hall" format -- although according to debate commission rules, if questioners veer from what they said they'd ask, their mics will get yanked. Can't have things getting too-too crazy now! The candidates, especially the president, took great pains to make sure spontaneity was at an absolute minimum in these debates. And remember: The debate tonight, the town-hall format, was the one Bush reportedly wanted least.

Gallup (under fire recently for its GOP-favoring polling techniques, you'll recall) chose the citizens, "a random sample of uncommitted voters from the area around the town hall debate venue." Actually, they chose people who are "soft supporters" of Bush or Kerry, who are leaning one way or the other, but claim to be open to having their minds changed. Bush was apparently opposed to having pure undecided voters there for fear there was a greater chance he'd get heckled. Although we have to say we're not sure why it matters whether they're undecided or "soft" for one guy or the other -- it seems quite impossible for Gallup to definitely prevent would-be hecklers from going to the mic.

But this is how Gallup described its selection methods and what will go on tonight:

"The basic procedure is very similar to those used when Gallup conducts a normal poll. Gallup begins with a random probability sample of the St. Louis area, asks people a series of questions to determine if they qualify as an uncommitted voter, and then invites them to be a participant in the debate if they qualify."

"Although over 100 participants will be on stage behind Bush and Kerry, the 90-minute format means that only about 20 people will actually end up asking questions. Under the terms of the debate agreement hammered out by the two campaigns, moderator Gibson will select the questioners and will attempt to keep the questions roughly balanced between foreign and domestic issues."

By Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at

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