10 Country: Flanders finds the political pulse - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

10 Country: Flanders finds the political pulse

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November 4, 2003

Tifton-- Political candidates often hire expensive polling companies to check the pulse of voters. But they could just ask a man who seems to know who will win.

Near a barber pole, political polling takes place before every general election. “I’ve always been real interested in politics and who was representing us,” says Hollis Flanders, a barber for 42 years. He decided one day to start talking politics with his customers, many who vote regularly.

“I don’t pick sides; I don’t campaign for anyone,” says Flanders as six men wait for their cut.

Often, his customers get in spirited political discussions, and he keeps mental notes about their thoughts and compares them with other opinions. His customers find the barbershop a safe place to talk, a natural, on-going conversation topic since he has a steady stream of customers throughout the day.

Hollis uses a simple method to get people to express themselves. “I try to get people talking close to an election, and then I listen,” says Flanders. He didn’t know it at the time, but he started making a name for himself in political circles.

What started out as a joke has turned into something serious. A local radio reporter asked him to predict winners of various races 25 years ago. Hollis predicted the winner of every race, 100% accuracy, and a new pollster was born.

His success rate soared, going on to predict winners in 136 national, state, district and local races. “I think I’ve missed one in all the elections I’ve called, and it was a city council election.” He thought enough voters didn’t know the winning candidate. That missed call ruined a perfect record. Missing one out of 136 races over a quarter of a century amounts to an accuracy rate of 99.3%.

“It’s just luck,” says Flanders with a quick laugh. He claims no political party affiliation, says he votes for the best person, and hasn’t missed voting in 42 years. He takes pride in saying he arrives at the polling place at 6:15 am, 45 minutes before it opens.

In those 25 years of noting voters’ opinions, he’s seen attitudes change and politicians need to change with the times. “Be honest with people instead of telling them what they want to hear,” says Flanders who also believes campaign spending has gotten out of hand.

Every election he hears from state, district and local politicians who want his opinion. “When they are in town, I have a good many drop by and talk to see what it sounded like on their side,” says Flanders.

Would he shave the truth a little if a candidate had problems? “If they ask me, I think they want an honest answer,” says Flanders who would tell them if their campaign has problems.

Of all the candidates that have visited his shop, he hopes one, in particular, would ask for his opinion-President Bush. “I wish he would. I’d like to talk to George. I’d tell him he’s doing an awful good job,” says Flanders.

Much like Hollis Flanders when he predicts political winners with almost certain accuracy. The pollster-barber picks up a concern by voters about the war in Iraq, and, in particular, America's exit strategy.

So, who's going to win the Tifton Mayor's seat? He thinks current Mayor, Paul Johnson should return to office. If he does, the barber's accuracy rate jumps to 99.7%.

We'll see.

Posted at 4:20PM by dave.miller@walb.com