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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Poll

I’d like to offer my own two cents on the St. Pete Times poll on the mayoral race, mainly in response to Peter Schorsch’s posting on the topic.

Peter is right in saying that this poll is far from meaningless, but I’d like to qualify that a bit.

61% of voters will not go into the polling booth or mail in their ballot with their choice of mayor being “I don’t know.” It will be somebody. Granted, this does foreshadow a little more throwing away of votes than usual – for example, “Mickey Mouse,” “Donald Duck” and “my grandmother” will all probably do better than normal.

Kathleen Ford’s lead should be taken with a grain of salt. 10% and the lead isn’t bad, but Ford is also a known figure with base of pre-existing support that is likely to neither shrink or grow significantly. In other words, 10% represents something close to both a floor and ceiling. In part because those same qualities that guarantee her a floor also limit her room for growth, and also because she is very unlikely to have the resources to run a robust direct mail and absentee ballot campaign.

Baker might be worried about Ford’s numbers, but only if you assume that the 61% of undecideds don’t settle on anyone, leaving the proportions as they are. I find this very unlikely.

Deveron Gibbons is probably a little miffed by his numbers, but he can probably still count on significant support from the African-American community, which alone will put ahead of Ford’s “lead.”

Scott Wagman is probably a little perturbed. The real question now for Wagman is how much money he can spend on paid media, especially direct mail, between now and when the absentee ballots drop.

As I said, this poll is not meaningless, but that doesn’t mean we can make any strong judgments about any of the campaigns, except to say that no one has really seen their operation take flight.

The fact is, with a +/- 4% margin of error, virtually everyone is in a dead heat (including Ford and Bennett – the margin of error is for each number, so Ford’s could actually be 4 points or 6% and Bennett’s four points higher or 7%). Another reason why money will be key. I reckon that 10,000 votes is roughly what folks are aiming for to get into a run off – it’s not likely that anyone is going to have that many conversations with undecided voters, so paid media is going to have a big influence on this race. I don’t say that the biggest spender will win, but an ability to drop multiple pieces of mail and the ability to target significant resources to absentee voters is likely to rule a candidate out of the running for a top two spot.

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