Two Polls in Portland Mayor's Race

Charlie Burr

Two new polls offer a snapshot of where the race for Portland mayor stands today and where it may be headed.

First, a poll from SurveyUSA via KATU shows a tight race, with Hales just outside the margin of error:

A new poll shows Charlie Hales has a slight advantage over Jefferson Smith in the race to become Portland's next mayor, although there are plenty of voters who are still undecided.

According to the Survey USA poll conducted for KATU News, 34 percent of voters polled said they would vote for Hales, while 29 percent said they would vote for Smith. 37 percent were undecided.

The poll shows that Hales supporters tend to be white, older, upper-income voters. Smith has a lead among non-white, lower-income voters who are younger.

Reports of a second poll -- via Portland Mercury -- have either the Hales campaign or independent group testing a host of negatives against Smith, despite Hales' pledge to avoid such attacks:

The survey taker read off a list about Smith that was nowhere near as glowing. He was cast as someone hot-tempered and prone to violence while playing sports, habitually unable to show up to places on time, with a bad traffic record, and no support from Planned Parenthood (which hasn't endorsed either candidate in the race). And then asked, again, now how do you feel?

"I thought it was completely despicable," our source said. "I hope it backfires."

I don't really mind campaigns drawing contrasts with their opponents; elections are about choices, after all. But that's not the path that the two candidates have chosen in the race.

In multiple forums, both candidates have agreed to keep it positive and refrain from negative attacks. From KGW:

“I think it says a lot about Portland that we’ve conducted a positive campaign," said Charlie Hales. "We should be running on our merits, so I won’t add anything and we will continue to focus on our own strengths.”

The problem with the clean campaign pledge is the same as the problem with self-imposed limits on spending: Both depend on Hales being straight with voters.

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      The city is in a desperate position. Something has been going for some time that nobody wants to talk about. May be I don't want to talk about either. We offend our leaders very quickly. Jefferson Smith is not the right personality for this great city. Hales has it together. I knew him. He is solid--reasonable and thoughtful. If Smith were to be elected, we have issues on our hands. I mean trouble. He needs to grow some more. We are ready for maturity. The city has suffered for some time. Hear well. I love my city.

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        Charlie-- I think you'd be surprised how often stuff that is polled is never used.

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        Presumably if they polled a sample, and the results seemed to tell them that the tested messages didn't result in positive movement for their candidate, then they wouldn't use them. That's the point in testing them. But there would also be no point in testing them if they weren't willing to use them if they got the intended response.

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      Do you know what messages about Hales personally test well? The ones that really turn likely undecideds off?

      I guarantee you Smith doesn't know, nor does he want to know, if someone else tries to find out. THAT is a non-negative campaign, because why even ask the questions? Why pay to have them asked? Why stand by and mull over the results? If you pledge to run a positive campaign, it's not a normal part of campaigning. Test your own positives, heck even your negatives--but there's no positive angle to testing your opponent's negatives.

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        Come off it. Smith and his many supporters have been pushing the negatives about Hales forever, not least on BlueOregon. If they're not testing with phone polls, it's just that they think what they're doing is working fine.

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    To me this smells a little bit like a push poll, which would be utterly despicable. It's sad when a candidate's pledge to be positive really means "I'm going to let other people do the dirty work."

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      No. It's not a push poll.

      Remember: A push poll doesn't have lots and lots of questions. It has, oh, two or three.

      And a push poll doesn't ask 300-500 people its questions. A push poll goes out to thousands and thousands.

      A push poll isn't a poll. It's message delivery dressed up to look like a poll.

      There hasn't been a credible report of a push poll in Oregon in 30 years.

      If there were a push poll in the mayor's race, you'd know it because dozens and dozens of your friends would have gotten the call.

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        Kari, I know we've had this discussion before, but it's not quite that clear. It may not have been technically what you consider a "push poll," although there is some disagreement as to the definition. It may not have been designed to spread a negative message far and wide, but, if correctly reported, it was designed to test the effectiveness of negative messages.

        I know of at least two instances in the past 10 years in which polls first asked the voter's preference in a particular race, then asked a series of "Would it change your vote if I told you that [insert characterization of opponent]" questions. In one case the calls were widespread enough, clearly negative, and late enough in the campaign to be perceived as an attempt at a whispering campaign. In the other they seemed to be made to a limited sample and designed to test messages and characterizations of the opponent.

        Again, I don't know why one would pay to test a message unless willing to use that message, should it test well.

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          if correctly reported, it was designed to test the effectiveness of negative messages.

          Yes, and that would be a legitimate message-testing poll, not a push poll.

          A "push poll" is NOT a poll. It's a message-delivery call designed to sound like a poll - usually because the claims are false, and asking a "What if you learned that..." rather than making an outright claim might avoid legal trouble.

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    So you are indicting by innuendo and one person's recollection. Really? This reads like a PR hit piece.

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      Trust me, he doesn't Paul. Of what use would it be? You said he surely knows about his weaknesses; I said he doesn't know how those weaknesses play as voting issues. Meaning there's no polling to test messages, no interest in using Charlie's personal flaws as election fodder. To call a campaign who doesn't use negative personal info "inept" is highly cynical and itself a strong example of why we need to move beyond that.

      And I don't think it's necessarily true to assert it's not a push poll; all that's required for one is negative messaging and no real intent to use the results. Nothing's been used so far.

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    if a campaign finds out what the most effective negatives are against their opponent, they can then build on their most effective positives that mirror that. for example, the Obama campaign working hard to win women, Latinos, etc. you don't see the Rmoney campaign trying to win the black vote; going after your opponent's strengths is a lot harder to do. but if you can identify something that is really negative to voters, you can either go negative on that -- or you can go super-positive on your own strength in high-rez contrast.

    but you won't know until you ask the questions.

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    Both candidates in this race have said they are not going to run a negative campaign. I'm confident that if attack advertising against Jefferson happens out of this message polling, that Charlie will claim he didn't know about it or authorize it, and that it will be an independent group. But that won't make it right, or Charlie's statements trustworthy, if that is indeed what happens. We have to wait and see, but I think The Oregonian and Willamette Week, both endorsing Hales, have set up this campaign for the Portland Business Alliance types to undertake. And I think they'll do it, and that Charlie and Liz Kaufman will know about it fully. We'll see. If they don't do it, I think Jefferson's people-based campaign will carry the day, just as it did in getting him into the general. I am confident that Charlie and Liz have assessed this possible outcome. I believe you'll see the negative attack ads against Jefferson personally.

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