Tuesday, August 10, 2010

CD8: The Numbers Game

Posted By on Tue, Aug 10, 2010 at 5:05 PM

I’m a little late in getting around to examining the CD8 poll released last week by Conservatives for Congress, an independent campaign committee. (Forgive me for taking my annual South Seas summer vacation. And yes, it’s beautiful in Waikiki this time of the year.)

Anyway, the CFC poll showed Republican Jesse Kelly with a two-to-one advantage over former lawmaker Jonathan Paton in the GOP primary that will decide which Republican will face Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Congressional District 8. Here's a link to the press release for the poll.

The poll of 300 likely GOP voters, which got remarkably little play in the local media, showed that 36 percent of voters were supporting Kelly, 17 percent were supporting Paton and 5 percent were supporting Brian Miller. Another 39 percent were undecided.

There was more bad news for Paton in the poll, which was taken on July 26-27 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.66 percent.

The survey inquired about what sort of things might hurt a candidate’s chances at the ballot box.

Only 8 percent of those polled said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who was a lobbyist before running for office; 31 percent said it would make them somewhat less likely to vote for the candidate, while 43 percent said it would make them much less likely to vote for the candidate.

Even worse news for Paton: Only 4 percent said they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who

worked for the payday loan industry; 83 percent of GOP voters said it would make them less likely to support the candidate.

Now you know why in recent months, Democrats have been highlighting Paton’s work as a lobbyist for the payday lenders.

There was bad news for Kelly as well. Only 12 percent of Republican voters said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate if they knew he “works for a family business that receives large government construction contracts paid for from federal stimulus funds.” Nearly two-thirds—64 percent—said it would make them less likely to support a candidate.

Now you know why Paton has been making a big deal about the stimulus-funded contracts received by Don Kelly Construction, the firm that’s owned by Jesse Kelly’s father and employer.

Kelly told us via email that the poll’s results “confirm what we are hearing when we knock on doors and at our neighborhood campaign events. Voters are rejecting the big-spending, establishment candidate.”

The Paton camp moved to discredit the poll with an email the following day that dismissed the survey as a “push poll.”

But National Research’s Adam Geller, who did the poll, insists it was not done as a push poll but as a scientifically conducted survey that targeted likely voters in the Aug. 24 primary.

“A push poll is a poll in name only,” Geller says. “They call and it’s a negative message and they purport to be doing a poll, but they don’t really collect any data. The other thing about push polling is that they call as many people as they can.”

In other words, a push poll would have asked questions like: “Would you still vote for Jonathan Paton if you knew that he was a lobbyist for the payday loan industry?” Or maybe: "Would you still vote for Jesse Kelly if you knew his family had taken millions of dollars in stimulus cash for their private business?"

Earlier this week, Paton spokesman Daniel Scarpinato stood by his characterization of the poll as a push poll.

“Conservatives for Congress is clearly a pro-Jesse Kelly group,” Scarpinato said. “Given that they’re closely connected to the Kelly campaign—a campaign which has had about as much accuracy and credibility on things as Countdown with Keith Olbermann—I don’t really believe anything that comes from them as the source.”

Scarpinato cited as further evidence a story from Indiana TheStarPress.com that said that National Research Inc. had been involved in push polling earlier this year.

But Geller says the firm at work in Indiana was actually a different firm with a similar name, National Research LLC.

“That’s the bane of my existence,” Geller says. “I don’t know much about them, but I would not want people to confuse their firm with my firm.”

Scarpinato said he’d look into whether he had leveled a false accusation.

“If it’s not the same one, it’s not the same one, but it certainly appeared that way, given that they had the same name,” he said.

Geller had a simple response to the Paton camp’s efforts to discredit his firm: “If you don’t like the message, shoot the messenger.”

We haven’t done any polling of our own, but we suspect the race is tighter than the Conservatives for Congress poll suggests. And as Geller himself points out, the poll is just a snapshot in time and much could change in the final weeks of the campaign.

“I tell my clients that these polls have the shelf life of a carton of milk,” he says. “Everything that you do in a campaign is designed to change your numbers.”

Scarpinato said the Conservatives for Congress poll “didn’t track” with Paton’s internal polling, but he declined to release any information from those surveys—even though the Paton campaign did release an earlier poll showing him in a dead heat with Giffords in the general election.

Meanwhile, today's Arizona Capitol Times' Yellow Sheets reports that Paton is a possible GOP upset in the primary:

"I think most people in Phoenix don’t know that Paton has a primary,” said one Republican source. “I think he can win, but I think people here are going to be shocked how close it is.” Paton’s chief opponent in the primary, Jesse Kelly, has nabbed an 8-point lead in the race and is gaining momentum, said another source, whose organization has conducted CD8 polling. “[Paton]’s dropping like a rock,” said the Republican. “Partly because it’s not a really well-run campaign, and partly because Jonathan Paton isn’t known as the hardest worker.”

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