I try not to get too caught up in the polls, especially the cheap-ass, robo-call variety that KING-5 commissions from Survey USA. Any race close enough to be worth the effort of polling is almost certainly too far within the poll’s margin of error to let either side rest comfortably at night. And with a large majority of voters now casting ballots by mail, even an accurate two or three day snapshot of voter opinion is only marginally useful in predicting the outcome of a three-week election.
That said, I’d rather be up than down, and with a recent round of polling results being bandied about in the comment threads, I thought I’d take a moment to share a few comments of my own.
Some of you may have noticed an apparently stunning turnaround in the race between Ron Sims and David Irons for King County Executive. On 10/17 Irons led Sims 46% to 43%. Two weeks later Sims leads Irons 48% to 41%. Of course much of this movement is likely explained by the rather zaftig +/- 4.1% sampling error rate. But the pollsters do point out one statistically significant shift:
Most of the movement is among women voters. Women support Sims by 21 points today, compared to 3 points on 10/17/05.
Why would women suddenly flock to Sims? Hmm, I dunno… perhaps it’s because he never beat his mother?
Of course, assuming these numbers actually represent a real swing in broad public opinion, there are a lot factors that might have contributed to the shift. Still, one can’t help but wonder how much of an influence Mrs. Irons’ story might have had on women… most of whom love their mothers, and many of whom are mothers themselves. Physical abuse and verbal harassment of women at home and in the workplace is much more common than we might like to admit, and so many women found a mother’s description of her own son’s abusive behavior both believable and disturbing. Knowing little about the Republican candidate other than his parents’ character testimony, it is not surprising if voters reject the undefined Irons’ “anyone but Sims” campaign.
The truth is, negative campaigning works, a fact that Karl Rove has made a career of proving. Had Christine Gregoire spent a million dollars during the final weeks of the gubernatorial campaign defining her opponent, there never would have been an election contest. Had the eminently fair-minded Dave Ross abandoned the moral high ground and gone negative on Dave Reichert’s ass, we’d likely have one more Democrat in Congress. I respect Ron Sims for refusing to sling mud… but not so much that I was going to sit back and watch him lose an election while voters remained blissfully unaware of Irons’ explosive temper and his well documented history of showing it. (Not to mention his pathological lying and embarrassingly inflated resume.)
Would I rather talk about issues? Sure… Sims kicks Irons’ ass there too. But I’m comfortable that my mudslinging was truthful mudslinging, and that I didn’t do anything to Irons he wouldn’t have done to Sims… had Irons actually had any mud to sling. (Remember, this is the guy who sprung a closed FBI investigation on Brian Derdowski the night before the absentee ballots dropped. What goes around comes around.)
All that said, I have no idea if my efforts have had any impact on public opinion, and I’m certainly not relaxing now that the KING-5 poll shows Sims with a 7 point lead. This race could still go either way, and anybody who throws away their vote on a third party candidate that is neither qualified for office nor has a snowball’s chance of winning, risks putting King County’s $3.4 billion government in the hands of a lying, resume inflating, mother beating, tantrum tossing, tool throwing, unqualified Bush Republican. Third terms are extremely difficult to win for any executive office, and Sims would be struggling regardless of the opposition. Irons biggest backers, the gambling and building industries, want you to believe that you have the luxury of casting a protest vote. You don’t.
Irons is all but guaranteed a floor of about 35% of the vote; this represents the Will Baker Wing of the Republican Party… those who will vote for any candidate with an “R” next to his name, regardless of qualification or pulse. Then there are those single issue voters who will reject Sims on Sound Transit or the CAO or the nixed SWA deal… or who have totally bought into the GOP bullshit that KC Elections is corrupt and incompetent. (It is not.) This puts Irons’ floor firmly in the low to mid 40’s.
The Democrats have their own robotic voters, but they are much less reliable than those in the GOP, eroding the D’s natural numerical advantage. The result is that Sims too has a floor in the low to mid 40’s, leaving the election in the hands of undecideds and would-be Greens. While I can certainly envision Sims winning with greater than 50% of the vote, Irons squeaking by on a 45% to 44% margin is just as likely.
So while I find the latest polls somewhat encouraging, I feel far from reassured. And neither should you. If you don’t want Irons to be King County executive… vote for Sims.
KING-5 also commissioned polls on Initiatives 900, 901 and 912, which make one thing perfectly clear: I-901, which bans smoking in public places, is going to pass. Of course, we all knew that.
We’ve also always known that I-900, Tim Eyman’s superfluous performance audits initiative is a bit of a toss-up. It’s a rather complicated subject likely to confuse voters, and so there’s the natural instinct to vote no. But it is vaguely anti-government, and voters like that, so I still think it’s likely to manage a couple point victory. Still, it won’t come anywhere close to passing with a kind of mandate that could be understood to say anything about the mood of the electorate.
But it’s the numbers on I-912, the anti-transportation initiative, that has spurred the most interest. Survey USA shows I-912 failing, 44% to 50%, but as encouraging as this may be, I’d take these results with a large boulder of salt. Eyman’s own anti-tax initiatives have routinely polled 10 points lower than the final vote — I suppose some supporters are embarrassed to reveal themselves as selfish bastards — so I-912’s defeat is anything but a sure thing. But clearly, the initiative has not generated the overwhelming support some had predicted.
A look at the crosstabs are in fact fascinating, with I-912 supposedly drawing only 43% in Eastern WA… statistically comparable to the 42% support in Metro Seattle. I find both these numbers hard to believe, but in different directions.
I’ve always felt this was going to be a close vote, and if voters really understood the gas tax and what it pays for, I-912 would go down to defeat. But win or lose, if Republicans were looking for some voter backlash to slap in the face of Gov. Christine Gregoire and the Democrat controlled Legislature, this poll suggests I-912 won’t be it.
So there you have it… I find the recent round of polling interesting, encouraging… but ultimately, meaningless. With the exception of I-901, these races are all too close to call. So don’t throw away your vote.