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Santa Monica Weighs Proposal to Plug Into Presidential Campaign

August 20, 1987|ALAN CITRON | Times Staff Writer

City officials may try to lure presidential candidates to Santa Monica next year with a new electronic device called the "Quick Tally."

The hand-held device that automatically measures audience responses to questions and comments would be used in a series of presidential forums at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.

Members of the audience participating in the forums would be able to indicate instantaneously whether they support or oppose a candidate's views. The answers would be displayed on video screens in sight of the candidates.

The city will spend the next month analyzing Quick Tally and talking to top political organizers.

'Definitely Practical'

"The idea is definitely practical in that it has been done by pollsters," Councilman Alan Katz said. "But this would be the first time in which the results would be known by the audience and the participants immediately."

The forums would focus considerable news media attention on Santa Monica. But Councilman David Finkel said there are also more practical benefits.

The gatherings could be used as a way to promote voter registration. "If there is some kind of meaningful linkage between having these forums and increasing voter registration, then I am all for it," Finkel said.

The plan came to the city from Venice resident Carl D. Rogers. Rogers, 44, a Vietnam veteran, anti-war activist and political organizer who is writing a book on influential people, said he was disturbed by the fact that so many presidential contenders are unknowns.

Used in TV Shows

When he heard about Quick Tally, which is owned by a company called Media Group, Rogers said it seemed like a great way to spur interest in the 1988 campaign. He took the idea to Santa Monica because his wife had worked there. He is not associated with Media Group.

Audience response systems are frequently employed on television game shows and in gauging audience responses to products. An audience-response system was also used in Iowa last July during a Democratic presidential candidates forum. But Rogers said the Quick Tally is different.

In Iowa, 85 people's responses were gauged as they sat in a private room. The Quick Tally can measure up to 300 responses and could provide an ongoing commentary on a candidate's performance. "What makes the Quick Tally system unique is the sophistication . . . that goes with it," Rogers said.

The Quick Tally fits in the palm of the hand and looks like a pocket calculator. The remote-control device is connected to a computer that instantly calculates and displays audience responses on large screens. Answers can also be broken down according to age and sex, Rogers said.

Major Candidates Preferred

Santa Monica Civic Auditorium holds about 3,000 people. The 300 who could be hooked up to the Quick Tally should represent a cross-section of society, Rogers said.

Rogers said the system would work best if candidates from the two major political parties appeared one at a time. He said that the forums should be held over a period of several months and predicted that candidates will be eager to participate when they learn about the innovative idea.

"All of the candidates will be spending time in California anyway," Rogers added. "We're not talking about bringing them to Lincoln, Neb., or Juneau, Alaska."

Rogers said the forums could be beneficial for Santa Monica.

"The city could schedule day-long activities around the forum" he said. "City officials would have a chance to meet and establish a relationship with the next president of the United States."

Could Cost $1 Million

City officials are obviously intrigued by the idea. But they are also expressing caution. Corporate sponsors would be needed, since the total cost of the forums would be about $1 million. There is also a scheduling problem since the candidates are committed to other events.

And privately, some people wonder if candidates would subject themselves to the whimsy of armchair analysts.

"The candidates might be turned off by the idea of 300 people immediately analyzing what they have to say," said an official who asked to remain anonymous. "It tends to focus on the sizzle and not the substance."

On the other hand, some say that the news media exposure alone that would probably be generated could be too good to ignore.

"The fact that it will get so much media attention may make it impossible to say no," said Katz. "We're talking about a national event held in Santa Monica."

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