Thursday, February 09, 2006

Riley Poll: Clean Money OK; Sten Not So Much

Without the head's-up by Worldwide Pablo, I may never have seen this Riley survey (pdf) covering Portland election items for both the May and November elections. It may have come out just a hair too late to make Tuesday's Tribune, but I still haven't seen it in The O yet, either.

Part of the reason may be the low sample size for a typical survey. Assuming "omnibus" is the new word for "intercept survey"--itself the scientific word for 'man on the street' interviews--then 173 is a good sample based on the fact that it's tough to get people to do them. I spent the better part of two days in Seattle doing them last spring, and got just under 80 people total. Tough data to collect or not, however, the error margin for so few responses makes this a less than robust survey for forming complete opinions. Furthermore, it's so early in the process that a fair chunk of the response is still "Huh?"

But that said, there are some interesting data from the responses. First of all, the backers of campaign finance repeal have to be pretty chagrined at the results--just 29% currently favor repeal. Those wanting to keep the system at least for now don't form a majority either, but when repeal plus ALL of the undecided just barely gets you 50%, that's not a widely popular petition. Even if you assume the maximum favorable error margin, it's still not even 40% in favor of junking the system. 350K spent by Ginny Burdick's gang down the tubes so far, and they're still at the bottom of the hill. If anything, it seems as if the "rich business wants to protect influence" meme has overtaken the "Council wants to waste your money" meme in the early going. It will be hard to turn that around, IMO.

As a fervent supporter of VOE, Erik Sten by rights should be a happy camper reading those results. And maybe he only read that far in the report and put it down to go smoke a cigar. For the sake of his digestion, I sure hope so. When given a list of Position 2 candidates including Sten, the largest group of respondents said, "Not Sten" or "not the guy in there now."

That's depressing, but what's far worse is that the "not Sten" answer wasn't one of the choices. That's right--37% of Portlanders VOLUNTEERED their animus towards Sten, unbidden. How many of those people do you think Sten can hope to reach? 5%? 10%? 1%? That's Hillary-like polarization, and it is has to be very stressing to campaign with that kind of hard number already in the bag against you. In a final irony, if Sten feels he has to spend large amounts of money to retain his seat, he will trigger additional payments to his opponents to cover the gap--per the very same VOE laws he helped pass.

Dan Saltzman does marginally better than Sten, although his level of support is actually even lower (20% vs 27%). What saves Saltzman is that a full 62% of Portlanders haven't the faintest idea what kind of choice they'd make. Saltzman's "no way in hell I vote for that guy" number is just 6%, meaning he has plenty of people ready to be won over. However, in another odd twist while Sten's opponents barely even register, multiple candidates earn three to four percent against Saltzman. The better the challengers, the smaller the proportion of undecideds Saltzman has access to.

In two other high profile topic areas currently in the news, you might be surprised to learn that residents favor both the aerial tram and a city schools tax by slim pluralities. Neither "yes" vote is particularly strong, and the school tax suffers from needing a 50% majority of registereds voting at all for it to count anyway. But after all the overruns and weeping over wasted effort or citizen backlash, the tram and the tax are at least as popular as they are reviled.

There had better be some swift ad campaigning going on around town, otherwise fortunes are bound to fall.