We love polls, we hate polls, but pundits, prognosticators and pollsters are poll-driven. If your campaign has not had even an internal poll, it will be under the radar and national independent pollsters will not have any means to evaluate your campaign other than the figures from the '04 election - and in so many cases in "Red" districts that are migrating to Purple and Blue this is a travesty that marks you a long shot or a no shot. They are mostly number crunchers and that is that.
A poll by a nationally known polling agency (you see them at Electoral-vote.com, Pollster.com and PollingReport.comis expensive, say off hand pushing $10,000 bucks. How can an under funded, understaffed, underdog, and under the radar campaigns manage a poll?
We are in the home stretch. A last minute poll might be of value. It is the candidates' call. But for what it is worth, the rest is beyond the fold.
There is a way that you might be able to manage by using a less well-known and less expensive alternative for your internal poll. Even before the Blue Tide began to swell, internal polls by a number of candidates in Red districts showed surprising results. Such polls were conducted by Eric Massa, Jay Fawcett, Bill Winter, Ted Ankrum, Bill Morrison and John Courage to name the ones with which I am familiar. What is the value of these polls since they are not those that are nationally recognized? Well, if properly done at the very least it shows you were you stand and where you should put your energies. Beyond that, reports of your polls <in the blogosphere can pick up support from the netroots as they suggest that you have a fighting chance at the very least to win your district. This alone might generate at the very least payback for he cost of the poll. People just want to know some measure by which to judge whether it is worthwhile to donate to your campaign.</p>
Beyond that, folks who have had internal polls do find themselves elevated to the independent poll map. This has happened for Eric Massa and Jay Fawcett, for example. Suddenly they find that they are on the map, but it is no mystery. Interest and even excitement generated by sharing the news of the internal polls can break into the local media, sift to the Internet, and even make the mainstream media. Then the pundits, prognosticators and pollsters begin to pay attention. It also can give an impetus to recognition by the DCCC and PACs that have not contributed to your campaign -- though don't hold your breath. Usually they will become conscious of your campaign as a result of the first independent polls that hit your district. But to be fair, CQ has upgraded Andrew Duck's (MD-05) campaign from Solid Republican to Favoring Republican without so much as a single poll (except one online one which next to useless) - so someone is paying attention to various factors at work. And right now, with Democratic campaigns gaining momentum, they are beginning to look in more outlying places. At any rate, those who have had these internal polls and released them (the GOP significantly has not been releasing theirs!), create a lot of buzz that helps the campaign.
We have the results of the above mentioned internal polls by several fighting Dems and what do they show? They indicate a widening gap between the '04 election results and the actual position of the challenger in '06. The results will be heartening to supporters and potential supporters if they show such a pattern. Where you have been put down as a two star race by DC Political Report, you find that actually you are a three star or even a four star challenge. This means that you are in striking distance of making the incumbent sweat out the election and even intensify his campaign. He or she may even have to agree to a debate if there is time left. Even more interesting is that even up until the end of September, before the Republican monolith began crumbling, the polls were showing that a generic Democrat doing very well indeed against incumbents suffering from the negative opinions on the membership, especially the Republicans, in Congress. And if a brief bio were given of the challenger and the incumbent, the results were even more encouraging. In short, folks want to know your district is winnable and they want numbers they can crunch..
So how does one go about getting an internal poll that is not too expensive? Here you can benefit from Fighting Dems who have done internal polls. While you have to contact them to find out the details of expense, we can see 1) which pollsters have been used (not to hawk any pollsters, just to pass on information) and 2) a model for a good non-push-pull poll. Below are the pollsters I have seen used. Note that many of these polls were spring, early summer or at the latest late September. You can email the candidates for details.
CO-05 Jay Fawcett - Whitman Strategies
CO-06 Bill Winter - Anzalone-Liszt Research
NY-29 Eric Massa - Cooper and Secrest (no link)
TN-07 Bill Morrison - Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates
TX-10 Ted Ankrum - Forensic Economic Data Consulting
TX-21 John Courage - Forensic Economics Data Consulting
The campaign can ask the pollster to include certain items. I have worked, in fact, for a San Francisco polling firm, making calls and working though questionnaires that included political polling for candidates. I am quite familiar with the process and with really bad polls. Some on the cheap put your poll questions in the middle of a commercial questionnaire for some product to save money. You certainly do not want that! You want a poll that gives you an honest evaluation, not a push-poll. You want one that is short and sweet - not a catchall of endless questions. Robocalls are generally thought to have a much wider Margin of Error - even double - but they are cheaper and provide ballpark figures. So you want something inexpensive first time round, that does not have too many questions, and which has only three or four possible answers. Avoid having the respondent evaluating which of fifteen issues is most important.
I recommend the model provided by Ted Ankrum. Ted's experience as a Deputy Director of EPA and an Assistant Director of NASA has given him the experience that made this poll straightforward and clean. It was a robocall poll of 500 randomly-selected likely voters in TX 10. The statistical margin of error for this number of responders is 4.4%. Finally, bear in mind that this poll was conducted when the Blue Wave was just a gleam in Uncle Sam's eyes.
Here are Ted's own thoughts about the poll:
I have been saying that TX 10 is not a lock for the Republicans ... So I put my contributor's money where my mouth has been, and commissioned a poll by Forensic Economic Data Consulting, Inc. ... I wanted this poll to be as accurate a reflection of voter sentiment as possible, so there were no "push questions". I attempted to make it as neutral as possible, so that a responder could not tell whose campaign was conducting the poll. On question 3, when a roll of the candidates was listed, the order changed for each call.
And here is the poll. The actual results for Ankrum's poll stand before each choice (remember, this was back awhile and does not reflect current situation). Note that there is no provision for someone to pass over an item (No opinion) or to not have an opinion (Don't know). This might be a favorable addition to the questionnaire.
Q1. Are you a registered voter who intends to vote in the election?
(Note: Only "yes" answers continued with the call, for a total of 500 respondents and a margin of error of 4.4%.)
Q2. Michael McCaul is your current Representative in Congress. What are your thoughts on his reelection?
34.7% Would you definitely vote to reelect him
39.1% Would you consider other candidates
26.1% Would you definitely vote to replace him
Q3. The three Candidates for Congress are Michael McCaul, the Republican, Ted Ankrum, the Democrat, and Michael Badnarik, the Libertarian.
50.8% Would you vote for Michael McCaul, the Republican
41.6% Would you vote for Ted Ankrum, the Democrat
7.6% Would you vote for Michael Badnarik, the Libertarian
(Note: The order in which the candidates' names were read was rotated for each call.)
Q4 In times such as these, should a Representative follow the lead of the President or follow the opinion of voters in their District? In a situation where the two do not agree:
23.2% The Representative should follow the President
76.8% The Representative should follow the voters
Q5. What is your opinion of President Bush' job performance on a scale of 1 to 4, where 1 means you strongly approve and 4 means you strongly disapprove?
25.7% Strongly approve
22.8% Somewhat approve
9.4% Some disapproval
42.0% Strong disapproval
As Kuff (Off the Kuff) noted, "it was a pretty straightforward, non-push poll And that is what you want. Kuff did suggest that either a question should be allowed to be skipped (No opinion) and/or a "Don't Know" answer be provided.
Note on this poll that the head to head is 42% Ankrum to 51% McCaul [+9] at the time this poll was conducted, with 7.5% going to the libertarian candidate. Compare this with the '04 no brainer election results which pollsters report: 79% to 0% (no opponent). The latter provides absolutely no information, but Ted's shows the dissatisfaction brewing that is an early warning bell of the upcoming Blue Wave.
Karl-Thomas Musselman (Burnt Orange Report) had this to say about this report:
The poll was professional and hardly biased....
65.2% of the respondents will consider a different candidate, or definitely replace him. Bush has a 51.4% disapproval rating, with only 23.2% stating strong approval. Combine that with the 3:1 results for "Representatives should follow the voters, rather than the President", and the future does not look bright for Rep. McCaul.
And I've got to say, Ankrum has been all over that district and has a resume that is hard to beat.
This kind of poll result can boost a campaign tremendously though in and of itself it is just a beginning point -- it needs follow-up by independent polls when it can be seen that this is a viable district for Democrats. This is done by aggressively posting the results everywhere, notifying the mainstream media, and sending the official poll results to PollingReport.com, Electoral-vote.com and Pollster.com. It should be blogged on all the major Dem websites (Daily Kos, MyDD, TPMCafe, Swing States Project, Down with Tyranny, CCN (the Clark blog), etc.
Some candidates after the other questions have provided a short bio of each candidate and then asked again who they would vote for. This is to see the impact of name recognition, the one feature that new candidates lack against incumbents. The care to be taken here is to give an impartial description of each candidate, though some internal polls purposely include negative data to see the impact of certain wedge issues.
The following example is from Bill Winter's internal poll. During the period from May 7-11, 500 people in CO-6 responded to a poll that asked their attitudes on Bush, Tancredo, Winter, and policy in general. These are the short bios of each candidate that when read resulted in a 47% - 45% preference for Bill Winter over his opponent Tom Tancredo.
"Bill Winter, a Democrat from Castle Rock, left a job in a law firm to teach and coach in the public schools. Winter says he is running because Congress is not solving the economic needs and problems faced by middle class families. He says he will work with both parties to find real solutions to the cost of healthcare, gas prices, and college education. Winter says Washington has changed Tom Tancredo, who is out of touch, and has ignored the district to run for President."
"Tom Tancredo, a Republican from Littleton, is the current Congressman. Tancredo says he has helped cut taxes for families, improve homeland security and fight the war on terrorism. Tancredo says his top priority is ending illegal immigration that takes away American jobs and is a national security threat. Tancredo says he wants to continue fighting for the area's conservative values, protecting American jobs, and making sure the United States is more secure."
In a final series of push-poll style questions designed to drive up negatives against Tancredo, it was shown that going after Tancredo's record could be a very effective strategy to turn the attitudes of the voters. After hearing, "Tom Tancredo voted against extending military health coverage to national guard members, and their families. Tom Tancredo also voted to under fund veteran's healthcare programs by over $1 billion a year," 56% voters said they were now less likely to vote for him. After hearing a raft of such statements, ranging on everything from Tom Delay to Tancredo's taxpayer funded junkets, a head to head choice between Tancredo and Winter resulted in a 48% Winter, 39% Tancredo, 14% undecided split. When Winter raises the money to get the truth out about Tancredo, he will have a huge advantage in this election - and it can be shown from the poll! Bill Winter has the message that fits the district and has voters that are wanting to hear it.
THE FORMULA FOR SUCCESS
The one factor these polls have shown is that the incumbent has a tremendous advantage in name recognition. This is especially true for Fighting Dems as most of them are new to politics and are not well-known public ally in their districts. So it takes a bit of money to get a poll, a poll will help generate interest and money, and the money will buy media ads that can take a candidate's positions to a larger number of voters. It can be a vicious circle, but the circle must be drawn out into a linear sequence and pursued.
As for campaign strategy, Chris Esposito (Campaign Manager for the successful attempt by Dennis Moore in 1998 to replace Vince Snowbarger as the congressman from the Kansas Third Congressional District) offered the basic mantra -- and it hasn't been said much better:
"There is a proven, tested historical formula for winning elections."
It's a strong candidate, . . .
It's good fund-raising,
It's good polling... [Cooper and Secrest was used]
It's strong organization, . . .
And it's a message."
The internal polls will show the need for name recognition, but they also show the fertile ground for the candidate to capitalize upon in the negative reaction of voters to the incumbent, the willingness to vote for another candidate, a generic Democrat getting even higher votes than the Republican incumbent, and the better stats when even a thimble-full of information about the Dem candidate is provided. Eric Massa did two internal polls before he got on the independent poll list. The supported the strategy of his campaign and by the second poll he had improved name recognition by 20%.
It is late in the game and this may be a day late and a dollar short, but even a last minute poll can help on election day. It is no panacea but it can help focus attention on the race by the pollsters, pundits and prognosticators and maybe a few last minute bucks for the final run.
You can see more about the great Fighting Dem candidates on Fighting-Dems.com. You can also find a link contribute link there to donate to the FD of your choice.