Surprising results in Time poll

The magazine's search for the most influential people of the century has Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Bob Dylan all fighting Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

3 min read
Time magazine's quest to find the most influential people of the century has yielded some surprising results, not the least of which is an online duel between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs

According to the current standings, the most influential person of the 20th century, in all categories, is Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. Ataturk is revered in Turkey as a military genius and fashion arbiter, responsible for establishing Turkey as a republic and outlawing the fez.

The poll, which makes no claims of scientific accuracy, is made up of five categories: warriors and statesmen, entertainers and artists, builders and titans, and heroes and adventurers. It seems to have turned into a global contest to see whose fans can stuff the ballot box the best, yielding results that are less an accurate gauge of the most important people of the last 100 years and more a testament to the power of Netizens who use email to make their opinions heard.

The latest results also have executives from Microsoft and Apple competing for the "builders and titans" title. Bill Gates, the founder and CEO of Microsoft, is in third place in the category with 139,869 votes, and Steve Jobs, one of the cofounders of Apple and its current chairman, is in seventh place with 41,865 votes. Both are still several thousand votes behind the No. 1 candidate, Ataturk.

Ataturk has been dominating the poll due to an enthusiastic email campaign by his supporters. He is leading Winston Churchill by more than 10,000 votes for the "warriors and statesmen" category, and he is beating Bob Dylan by almost 40,000 votes in the "entertainers and artists" category.

The poll has no safeguards to keep people from voting more than once online, and in fact, changing one's mind is not discouraged, said Diana Pearson, director of public affairs for Time's site. What the site was not prepared for was the intentional ballot stuffing.

According to reports, Ataturk is the focus of a campaign started by a Turkish journalist that is so successful that even alternate spellings of his name have made the top 10 of almost every category. And it is not entirely surprising that Gates and Jobs, two men who have devoted online followings, are scoring such high numbers.

Jobs's fans have posted numerous messages through newsgroups, trying to get members of the pro-Apple camp to vote. "The Time poll is too close," a fan posted to the Mac Evangelist message board in July. "Steve Jobs is leading Bill (Squeaky) Gates by only a few dozen votes. Let's turn this survey on its ear!"

"Remember, your vote counts and it's important to support Apple," said another message posted to the comp.sys.mac.advocacy newsgroup. "I just don't want Bill Gates to win this poll?so stuff those ballots, people!"

Guy Kawasaki, chief evangelist for Apple, who garnered 37,422 votes in the "heroes and architects" category, said he was "astonished" by the vote, and gave credit to the turnout from the Mac faithful. Although Kawasaki couldn't remember whether he had voted or not, he guessed that Bill Gates had probably voted more than once for himself.

Kawasaki pointed out that "campaigning, which we didn't do anyway, is moral and ethical. Some campaigns are just more successful than others."

Because of the rampant ballot stuffing, the editors at Time are using the poll, which will remain active through the end of the century, only as a guide, and will make the final decision themselves.