By today’s standards, it is a little odd. It shows a small face peeping out of a sunflower. The candidate was Alf Landon, governor of the Sunflower State of Kansas. He was a Republican, and at this point in the presidential campaign of 1936, was leading in the polls.
Leading by far more than Barack Obama is currently leading John McCain. On election day, Landon easily won Maine and Vermont. And that was all. He lost every other state in the union.
His defeat remains the biggest blowout in modern Electoral College history. Later, the pollsters of the day scratched their heads. How could they have been so wrong? The answer had to do with their methodology. They conducted their polls by using the telephone directory. Indeed, most people who had private telephones then did vote Republican. But this was during the Great Depression. The people who the pollsters couldn’t reach were overwhelmingly in favor of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Even in the Sunflower state.
I wore that button to remind the audience -- and myself -- that you never can tell. Indeed, one pollster told me he thought the polls could be wrong this year. And wrong, once again, because of people with telephones. Many of these surveys don’t include people who, like all the thirty-year-olds I know, only have cell phones.
Young voters with cell phones seem to be overwhelmingly for Obama. If they actually vote, this may be a very one-sided race indeed. However, there are many more races on the ballot than the presidential one. What mystifies me is how most voters make up their minds in some of these contests. How does your average person know which candidate for probate judge is best?
I can tell you how most voters will make up their mind in the race for justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, where the EPIC-MRA polls shows a dead heat between Diane Hathaway and Cliff Taylor.
They will likely vote for Taylor, because it says right on the ballot that he is already a supreme court justice. That’s why incumbent judges almost never lose. After all, we’ve all grown up watching TV commercials, and the first thing a patriotic young kid learns is that you are never supposed to select Brand X.
But I can also tell you that on Tuesday night, somewhere, in some race, the pollsters will be proven dead wrong.
And whomever loses might think of this. Old Alf Landon didn’t get bitter when he lost. He went back to Kansas, lived a long and happy life and got to see his daughter elected to the United States Senate.
When he died, he was a hundred years old. In the end, the final victory may be all about living well.
Views expressed in the essay by Jack Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.