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Friday, November 9, 2007

The Prop. 1 Campaign’s Cynical Polling Tactics

posted by on November 9 at 13:14 PM

According to internal polls for the ‘Yes’ on Prop 1 campaign, the roads and transit initiative was supposed to pass. Big.

It’s losing 56.3 to 43.6.

The Tim Hibbitts polls used by “Keep Washington Rolling” had Prop 1 ahead 50 to 42 in December of ‘06; ahead 57 to 37 in May of ‘07; ahead 58 to 37 in June ‘07; ahead 65 to 32 in July ‘07.

Closer to the vote, the campaign’s September 23 survey said 57 percent favored the measure.

At that time, Hibbitts summarized:

“Transportation concerns continue to be the top issue in the Puget Sound area, and voters are looking for solutions. Clearly, we enter the last six weeks of the campaign with a real chance to put this measure over the top, and are in a better position to win than I would have imagined possible eight months ago.”

Kinda sounds like a fundraising pitch to me. Which brings me to the cynical point of this post. I’m not so much curious about why Hibbitts’s polling was off. I’m more convinced that these polls were pre-fabbed and used as fund raising tools. How else are you going to get Microsoft kicking in $300,000, Boeing at $180,000 , Washington Mutual at $100,000, and $300,000 from the Washington Association of Realtors?

High rollers like those folks aren’t going to invest that kind of cash unless they think they’re going to win. It’s the way businesses think. And it seems to meógiven how optimistic the campaign’s polls turned out to beóthe campaign played those donors pretty good.

Consider: The Sept. 23 “a better position to win than I would have imagined possible eight months ago” poll landed at pretty opportune time for the campaign. It gave the campaign a last push to do some big fundraising before the October 16 cut off. (Initiative campaigns cannot accept anything larger than a $5,000 contribution three weeks out from the election.)

In the week after that poll, several big donations came in: $30,000, $25,000, $20,000, $15,000 from places like Wright Runstad, IUOE Local 612, Parametrix Inc., and David Evans & Associates.

I’ve always been skeptical of internal polling. Perhaps big donors will be now as well.

RSS icon Comments


My guess is that the polling data was correct, and it was for "likely voters". However, thanks to a weak city-council slate, and nothing else terribly exciting on the ballot, "likely voters" stayed home or didn't mail in their ballot. The folks that turned out were the anti-tax Eymanites who had plenty of ballot measures to bring them to the polls.

Posted by Poll Watcher | November 9, 2007 1:14 PM
Iím more convinced that these polls were pre-fabbed and used as fund raising tools.

Unlike the Sierra Club robo-poll, which was good and pure, and oh, so green. Right, Josh?

Posted by ivan | November 9, 2007 1:20 PM

Yes, exactly. And that's also the point of the Sierra Club's poll. As Bill Hillsman has been saying for years -- he ran Paul Wellstone's campaigns -- polls are meaningless as a predictor, you can get a better sense just sitting in a bunch of coffee shops and eaves-dropping. But as a fundraising tool...

Posted by smiles | November 9, 2007 1:26 PM

right the anti tax voters that are usually 1 out of 4 voters came out, not. anti tax voters always come out. polls are rarely honest and come with an agenda. curious that with that big of a lead people would feel the need to give more.

Posted by whatever | November 9, 2007 1:27 PM

poll watcher comment seems sound, but so does Feit post. did turnbout fall faster than expected with Venus and Hague incidents? Or should have pollsters accounted for low turnout better?

in 1996, Sound Move was on the ballot and passed, Ds gained seats in both houses, and Locke won. Turnout was high. Gregoire and Chopp should welcome a smart transit vote in 2008.

Posted by eddiew | November 9, 2007 1:27 PM

Besides the internal Pro-1's poll, most of the Tee-Vee polls had a pretty even split between Yes and No, with varying numbers of undecideds. Setting aside the likely voter part of it (which is not inconsequential,) it's also possible that most Undecideds broke towards No when it came time to fill in the oval.

Posted by MoTown | November 9, 2007 1:34 PM

That's the thing though, I don't think those who were previously undecided voted no. The undecideds didn't vote.

Posted by Poll Watcher | November 9, 2007 1:47 PM

Whatís the surprise? There isnít an internal poll in the world that isnít biased. (One reason for this is also the horserace mentality of the press.) Independent polls are the only ones you can ever trust and every ďhigh rollerĒ knows it. Fundraising professionals have to build excitement and funders can do what they want.
Iím fairly convinced that the Sierra Clubís post-election poll is viable as they paid a third party with a reputation to keep. (Assuming they donít want the reputation of getting clients the right numbers.)
Campaigning and fundraising require spin, which generally leads to cynicism.

Posted by Gabe Global | November 9, 2007 2:01 PM

PW you don't think a fifty year transit/transportation measure plus the school vote plus the Eyman tax limit would be enough for pro P1 voters to come out? Makes no sense that people that usually vote in every election or 3 out 4 would miss a general.

Remember the SurveyUSA poll that all the pros said had to be wrong because it said it was going down and the fact that Gregoire was meeting with her WashDot head before the vote. Good polling showed the outcome.

Posted by whatever | November 9, 2007 2:01 PM

Gabe most all polls are done by a third party polling company that has a reputation to keep. Read the SC polling breakouts and you'll see that they skewed the results by having 26% from Seattle when it should more like 20% and many of the questions were poorly worded. Funny that the same people that put down the SurveyUSA poll because it was Robo now love this one.

Posted by whatever | November 9, 2007 2:07 PM

The general buzz before the election I heard was that the thing was too expensive, and most people I spoke with about it were against it.

So did this big defeat come as a big surprise to the political and business establishment that was trying to get it passed? Maybe they were blindsided by their internal polling data.

Posted by Waldo | November 9, 2007 2:12 PM


Exactly, that wasn't enough to get the D's out to vote. Democratic voters are much harder to motivate to go to the polls which is why every off-year election trends conservative. To get Democrats to vote they need to feel a sense of urgency, that the election is important, and without great candidates in the City Council races and no ballot measures that needed their vote to put it over the top(I would bet that most left-leaning folks assumed simple majorities was going to pass and Eyman was going to fail) the Democrats stayed home.

Our one candidate that should have inspired us to get out the vote was Bill Sherman, and unfortunately for him, we as a party couldn't unify behind him even though he was a great candidate (Thanks Sen. Kline and Jenny Durkan).

Posted by Poll Watcher | November 9, 2007 2:13 PM

Tying transit to roads made Prop. 1 un- inspiring.

Posted by Cleve | November 9, 2007 2:31 PM

I'm always frustrated by these robo-polls -- I got hit by three of them, including the Sierra Club one -- because there's never an option for "I want you and and all your babies to die of cancer, you motherfucking pollster scumbags".

Posted by Fnarf | November 9, 2007 2:32 PM

All the voters who stayed home can die and rot in a hell of fascist dictatorships, as they so richly deserve.

Posted by Greg | November 9, 2007 2:46 PM

You should be skeptical of polling in general.

Posted by Gomez | November 9, 2007 3:06 PM

@3 - actually, that was where I was getting my feel that No on RTID/ST2 was definitely going to die - coffee shops (most where they have no idea who I am, and places that have republicans and independents too) and cafes. I listened to a lot of people talking about the issues (yes, I know I talk to much in person, but not when I'm gathering data).

The global warming message went through and stuck to people. The interesting thing that Radical Red Bushies should be worried about is many people who are concerned about Global Warming are GOP and Independent voters - who frequently said bad things about Dems in the same sentence as they said they were voting No on RTID/ST2.

The world has changed. It ain't going back. Ignore this at your peril, politicians.

Posted by Will in Seattle | November 9, 2007 3:16 PM

oh and today at lunch I was talking with a longtime friend who admitted he hadn't even voted - we were mostly talking about the Fremont Fire Circle ... so we definitely didn't engage all the voters.

Posted by Will in Seattle | November 9, 2007 3:19 PM

Josh Feit -

It kills me to read your oh so astute analysis of all things political. You're an idiot. And what is really scary for the progressive community in Seattle is that because you write for the Stranger, you're an expert on, again, all things political...and some of the lemmings on the left follow you're dumb ass off of political and rhetorical cliffs.

In this particular instance, OF COURSE YOU SHOULD BE SKEPTICAL OF "INTERNAL" POLLING! The only "internal" polls that you ever see are those that someone wants you to see. And the reason you're seeing it is because it paints they're guy/gal/issue in the best possible light. So, you get some big ass kudos for recongnizing that you should be skeptical of some great "scoop" that a campaign manager is giving you the next time he emails you the results of a "poll"...and I cant wait to see this skepticism in action when Darcy Burner or another candidate that you're brilliant political mind has deemed to be the second coming gives you the results of some stupid poll....they know you're stupid ass will take the numbers (and the spin) hook line and sinker and run off and write the story that they want you to write. And on top of all of that you'll have the audacity to pretend that it was only through some kick-ass shoe-leather journalism that allowed you to gain access to this information or you'll portray the spin from the campaign as your own original brilliant political analysis. It's sad.

Posted by JAB | November 9, 2007 4:27 PM

Sure thing, Josh: like the campaign - run by large employers, essentially - decided to fudge the numbers to convince THEMSELVES they needed to give more money. More hard hitting reporting and commentary from our Capitol Hill-centric tabloid.

This dumb theory of yours makes about as much sense as the Stranger's critique of the south rail extension through Federal Way, a community crying out for transit oriented development, and a city trying to make that happen.

Why was the divide so large?

Well, for one thing, 28% showed up to vote. And everybody knows that an off-year election brings out anti-tax voters.

Also, there were plenty of folks who basically lied to Hibbitts, Elway, Strategies 360, EMC, etc. When asked if they would support the package, the little civic voice in the back of their heads said yes. When they got to the polls, the self-centered voice kicked in.

Besides, if you're paying $500 per month for a car you probably couldn't afford in the first place, that extra $250 per year was probably going to break you.

Most of these anti-tax voters blame "the Man" for their own fiscal challenges - but they don't thank him when he helps solve their issues with stuff, like say....light rail.

Posted by Megan | November 9, 2007 4:35 PM


Poll Watcher - likely voters were more in favor of P1 than all voters according to the UW poll. Those that had already mailed in their ballots were the most in favor. I think from my personal polling and focus groups that a lot of old line Dems voted against this for various reasons.

Posted by whatever | November 9, 2007 4:37 PM

This region is over-populated with self-centered grudge-holding fringe cranks. The small percentage of voters who showed up to the polls (about 14% of the voting-age population) responded well to the Kemper-Baerwaldt-Sierra Club anti-tax/anti-rail message.

In other words, about 8% of the actual voting age population killed off Prop 1.

It's tough for pollsters to get a read on this small group, no matter what the sample.

One thing that isn't tough to figure out: NoToProp1 activists' ideas have even less popular appeal.

So, in the end, gridlock wins again.

Thanks, in good part, to the "Fortress Seattle" brainiacs at The Stranger.

Posted by Megan | November 9, 2007 4:40 PM

Megan - voter turnout more like 45-48%.

Currently 33% with 140,000 left to count in King County.

Posted by whatever | November 9, 2007 4:43 PM

"Gregoire and Chopp should welcome a smart transit vote in 2008. "

Oh great, Sierra Clubber eddiew is back with the positive message. The blundering strategery at SC is already playing itself out.

Eddiew, did you happen to see Gregoire's comments yesterday? She basically blamed failure of Prop. 1 on the transit element, and didn't even bother to mention RTID.

Chopp is also openly hostile to light rail. But he likes your low rent buses, so you think all's well in the world of transportation. Did I get that right, eddiew?

I can't wait until some actual analysis is done regarding buses and global warming. I can almost guarantee driving your own Prius will be a lot greener than getting on eddiew's huge, heavy and slow bus.

And I can't wait until Ron Sims and the Sierra Club actually come to the realization that they got their whole GHG emissions argument ass-backwards.


Posted by garyL | November 9, 2007 4:48 PM

Whatever -

Who the F cares what turnout was...Josh's entire premise is so F'd up it ain't worth debating. If the Hibbits numbers were so off, shame on the Yes campaign for making tactical decisions based on flawed data. The fact that Josh's last "internal" numbers are from September make this exercise even more useless...the campaign probably was winning in September..I dont think the no side was up on TV at that point and the average voter didnt know the first thing about the package. By election day they did and it lost. In part, as Megan said, because of the idiocy of selfish Seattle voters.

Posted by JAB | November 9, 2007 4:56 PM

Q - "Who the F cares what turnout was"

A - Megan, apparently

Posted by whatever | November 9, 2007 6:08 PM

@24, of course, you could speed that realization by intelligently explaining how the emissions argument is wrong...

Use numbers.

No time like the present!

Posted by scotto | November 9, 2007 6:25 PM

It might be that the internal polls were essentially right, then the Sierra Club executed its campaign, and the anti-tax folks executed their campaign, right when the voters were starting to pay attention. The exit polling shows that the global warming message hit hard. Most voters probably were not aware of that issue until the Sierra Club spent its money, got its volunteers out, and kept racking up media hits. Facts matter, as do campaigns to get the facts out.

Posted by michael | November 9, 2007 6:58 PM

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