ARE you ready for the first pre-post-mortem of the '92 election? Here are some of the late hits and last-minute maneuvers that we can do without next time around.
1. Polling switches. The Gallup organization crossed the line from reporting to manipulating when it suddenly changed its methodology in the campaign's final week. Overnight, "likely voters" rather than "registered voters" became the basis for the closely watched percentages, instantly changing a six-point differential to a two-point gap.
If the Gallup organization, polling for CNN and USA Today, turns out to be right, other pollsters will henceforth weight their results on similar guesstimates of degrees of likelihood of respondents' actually voting. But the final-week switch in weighting misled a great many people into thinking the raw data were radically changed and a Bush bandwagon was rolling.
People who take and publish polls have an obligation to compare apples to apples, or to make a big, public point of it when switching the comparison to yesterday's oranges.
2. Campaign finance reform. Using the loose change in his own fortune, Ross Perot outspent the publicly financed candidates on television at the end by three or four to one. Not illegal; the Supreme Court has held it would infringe free speech to limit anybody's private spending. But it's not fair for any one candidate to use a huge financial advantage to dominate the airwaves and cables in the final stage of the campaign.
How to remove the inequity without limiting free speech? Require all candidates to file their spending plans 30 days in advance; then the Federal Election Commission could raise the publicly financed candidates' subsidy to match the private spenders. A billionaire would be restrained if he knew the others would charge him with forcing higher public spending.
3. FBI dirty trick. After hearing the tall tales of Mr. Perot and his conspiracy consultant, the FBI in Texas launched a "sting" to induce the head of George Bush's campaign in Texas -- a man who had shown no predisposition to wiretap, bug or dirty-trick anyone -- to commit a crime.
Incredibly, this entrapment was approved by FBI Director William Sessions in Washington. He hotly defends his wrongful intrusion into political campaigns and threatens his readiness to tempt an honest official again when the next conspiracist points a finger.
Sunshine civil libertarians who shyly looked the other way when the FBI used a sex lure to entrap the District of Columbia's mayor must now face the music: In the name of crime-prevention, the FBI is in the business of crime-creation. With Mr. Bush's attorney general in a personal war with Mr. Sessions, nobody can take the corrupt custodians into custody. Where is Senate Judiciary? Who will rid us of this power-abusive presumption of guilt?
4. Government statistics watch. A Halloween "October surprise" to benefit the president was predicted here last summer; I suspected a strike at Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, with the bombers knocking over Gadhafi and Castro on the return home.
Instead, with the economy, stupid, the paramount issue, the final week of the campaign saw a surprisingly rosy estimate of the economy's third-quarter growth from Mr. Bush's Commerce Department. This provided some desperately needed ammunition to fire off a declaration that there won't be a triple dip.
In a month or so, we'll get the revised figures. If GDP growth is 2.7 percent or higher, I will express chagrin at my lack of faith in the bureaucracy; if it's 2.2 percent or less, and Mr. Bush has won, suspicious souls will reach down there and demand an accounting of the projections.
5. Independent counsel restraint. In handing up his second indictment of Cap Weinberger, Judge Walsh supplied more evidence that blew away Bush protestations of having been out of the arms-for-hostages "loop."
Was Vice President Bush in the Casey-Poindexter ransom camp? Yes; his denials ring ever more false. Was the independent counsel right to drop this bombshell four days before the election? No; the indictment should have been handed up weeks earlier, or sealed -- special prosecutors should stay outside politics.
Those are for Wednesday. Meanwhile, there's today.
William Safire is a columnist for the New York Times.