Saturday, April 22, 2006

A New Ohio 13th Poll Makes Me Wonder

A few items of note recently have made me say . . . hmmm. My usual Friday night is surfing on my laptop in the TV room while the ladies in my life watch “What Not to Wear.” Last night I surfed in search of a few answers. Didn’t find any, but the questions remain fascinating.

The first is the poll released today by EMILY’s List. Redhorse, Jill and I apparently got the same memo, with Redhorse first in. The results are sufficiently different from that which came before that we should look at the available poll results together:

The first, most obvious conclusion is that Cafaro’s Zogby poll is definitively proven to be a big steaming pile. Not that is was seriously in doubt, but Capri was still flogging it as of her Joe Finan appearance. The wild swings, coupled with the “message polling” methodology pretty much put the kibosh on that. It’s up there, but ignore it. The first Goodwin Simon Victoria was all about name recognition, so doesn’t much resonate now

So we are looking at the recent WKYC/SurveyUSA poll vs. the GSV commissioned by EMILY’S List. I’ve was reading Mystery Pollster posts all night to try to figure this out, to little advantage. Much of what he writes is about general elections which 1) are two person races and 2) bring in differences between Dems and Republicans as variables. So much of this is talking out my butt; bear with me.

There’s an apples and oranges thing with these two polls because the GSV poll shows a much higher rate of undecideds. The low undecideds finding in Survey USA gave me pause at the time. Reading MP, I note that “house effects” can significantly influence that finding. I also wonder if the difference may in part be due to differing methodology in screening likely voters.

In an attempt – probably invalid – to compare the two polls, I’ve normed the polls to show the proportion each candidate gets of the voters who have decided:

Sutton’s move screams out now. She’s the only candidate who has moved out of the margin of error. So it’s time for the caveats. I can’t find the methodology for the poll anywhere – loyal MP readers know that as a big red flag. On the other hand, I haven’t found anything untoward about the firm in a Google search. Finally, I note that Sutton is on the front page of the EMILY's List website, so no inside information is causing them to shift focus.

That out of the way, let’s pretend the results mean something and try to figure out what. Interestingly, Sutton’s move doesn’t come at the expense of Sawyer, despite the attacks on his junketeering. Instead, she appears to be making major moves on Cafaro and whittling support from everyone else.

One factor for Cafaro’s drop may be backlash from her “Sue the Bastards” strategy. The news of the On Notice letters broke on the 11th – halfway through the SurveyUSA polling period. Allowing a few days for the news to percolate and the inevitable editorial pans, the GSV certainly gives a more complete picture of the effect of the news. If that's the case, it gives me pause; it may be a temporary effect. Certainly it's not enough by itself to turn the tide.

Another factor may be Sutton's visibility campaign taking hold. If that is the case, it's happier news for Sutton as she's only getting started. Her campaign ad didn't even go up on the website until the 17th -- the polling period for GSV II (and no I'm not in it; check out the production stills on the website to see why).

The gradual erosion of support for the basement dwellers is to be expected. This is the time in a multi-candidate race where voters who want their vote to count start reconsidering support for someone trailing badly. The key for the candidates at this stage is to be considered a contender. This poll puts Sutton in that category and makes Kucinich look like he’s falling out of it.

All of which makes it difficult to place blind trust in the latest poll. A poll with no posted methodology that just happens to say all the right things about the candidate supported by the outfit who bought it and just happens to show that candidate with a singularly strong move will never win more than two cheers. Maybe one and a half.

Finally, if there is a strategy message in the numbers we have been alloted, it's that Sutton should shift focus away from criticizing Sawyer and toward either criticizing Cafaro or simply making the case for herself. That squares with my observations on the ground. A lot of people following the race are voting ABC -- Anybody But Cafaro. After the SUSA poll, people who had been for Cafaro started making nervous talk about voting for Sawyer. If this poll is to be believed, Cafaro is safely back and a vote for Sutton has at least a chance of really counting.

I for one don't blame Sutton for going after Sawyer. It was hardnosed politics, it looked at the time like Sutton and Sawyer were competing for the same votes and it got her some earned media at a time when the ABJ was dolling out Betty ink with an eyedropper. But she better be done because, on the ground here, it's having a negative effect.

So maybe Sutton is surging. If EMILY’s List and the Sutton campaign want bloggers and other political junkies to fully embrace that narrative, they need a little transparency.


Jill said...

Very interesting. Thanks for doing so much wonk work, Scott. I liked statistics class, but not this much.

staff said...

Leaners. Scott i suspect the diff in undecideds is how hard each poll pushed leaners and undicideds.

What we also don't know is the geographic breakdown of this poll.

Just as you can't place much stock in that 1 zogby poll for Cafaro, you really can't put much stock in this poll for sutton showing her "surging". it's just one data point from a small sample with an unknown methodology.

About the only think we can say is that Sawyer is and has been the front runner.

Sutton I think has killed herself with so much negativity (its hard to win back those turned off) that it has left people a choice of Sawyer and Cafaro.

With Sawyer having little money and just under 2 weeks to go - if i had to pick a horse to ride home on it would be Cafaro's, but like i said she has a lot of ground to make up. I suspect the SUSA poll is the best guide to this race - the latest GSV looks ridiculous.

It's going to be exciting.

Kyle said...

Scott, great post and interesting information on the Emily's List poll.

I know some high priced DC consultants sat down with a pile of information searching for the best news they could release to the northeast Ohio media about the Sutton campaign. The best news they had to share is that Sutton is down 5%. The silver medal isn't going to be worth much on May 3.

It is definately going to be interesting.

Anonymous said...

I'd hardly count an alphabetical list robocalled as the best guide for any race.

And if Staff's boy scout theory of negative campaigning was true I can't think of a major election that wouldn't have been different in the past 20 years. Negative campaigning works, it doesn't always work as intended, but it certainly works. Just review the last 24 years of presidential campaigns, hell go all the way back to the Daisy ad. Compared to most campaigns Sutton's been softballing Sawyer and no one's really gone even half as negative as they could on Cafaro.

The poll results basically match what anyone would expect to happen in this race. The more people know Cafaro the less they like her. It happened in the 14th and its happening again. But its not just her, its a problem with a lot of self funded candidates. Voters typically sour on massive ad buys by millionaires in lieu of real campaigns.

Sawyer's stayed basically steady riding his name recognition, which is high. But his limited campaigning has really kept him from growing at the expense of any candidates.

Sutton also appears to be moving because she's making a big ad buy. She also looks damn good on paper, so once the candidate with the paper qualifications goes big on the TV you can expect some sort of gains.

Bottom line is Cafaro's going to keep trending down and the race between Sawyer and Sutton is going to depend on how hard she surges and how much Sawyer prevents his near inevitable erosion. Of course Grace could pull off some sort of geographic miracle based on some strange vote split between the other candidates, but unless he invests in some serious TV it appears a very long shot.

Pho said...

In anyone wonders what keeps me going in this dubious venture, a big part of it is getting insightful comments like the last Anon.

Staff said...

Anon, I would normally agree with you that negative campaigning works, however that dynamic changes in a multi-candidate field - which is the problem Sutton has with this tactic. Look what happened in the Dem primary in 2003 - folks went negative against Dean and Kerry staying above it slipped through to win it.

Negative campaigning in a multi candidate field isnt a tactic - its desperate.

As for the polling - Susa has a pretty good track record - more than can be said of zogby and GSV.

Anonymous said...

Polls mean nothing.