Lies, Damn Lies And Political Communications

There seems to be a bit of buzz at present about the poll we commissioned on the Lt. Governor and Secretary of State races, and certainly the campaigns are squawking about it.

In particular, the Nungesser campaign is making a good bit of hay about the poll, which has Jay Dardenne ahead of Nungesser by just two points in the Lt. Governor race.

Nungesser’s campaign put out an e-mail blast this afternoon saying this… Enterprise survey shows the race for Lt. Governor tied at 30-30 among “leaners” and within the margin of error at 24-26 among “all voters.” What is not highlighted in the analysis of the survey by the pro-Dardenne groups is the fact that I am leading by 12-points among “likely voters” 30 – 18.

These numbers indicate our media campaign is starting to have an impact with voters who are responding to my proven record of results and positive vision for Louisiana’s future.

Certainly with Dardenne being the incumbent in the race, Nungesser is entitled to be encouraged that it’s close – particularly given that he has more cash on hand than Dardenne does.

Except that Nungesser’s statement that he’s up 30-18 among likely voters is a pretty unfortunate one.

The poll broke respondents down into three categories of voters. From the Executive Summary of the results…

  • Registered Voters – Randomly picking voters from the voter lists and calling them. While this is the least labor intensive, this is also, in our opinion, the least useful – in the 2008 Presidential election, for example, 33% of registered voters in Louisiana did not vote. It doesn’t make sense to include these voters in any poll sample!
  • Likely Voters – Using predetermined criteria to filter out “unlikely” voters. This criteria is subjective, but in general, those who have never voted or those who, in the pollster’s judgment, are highly unlikely to vote, would not be included in a “likely voter” sample.
  • Chronic Voters – Using predetermined criteria to filter out “unlikely” and occasional voters. This criteria is even more subjective than the “likely voter” criteria, but in general, those who have not demonstrated a level of consistency in voting would not be included in a “chronic voter” sample.

Nungesser has it right that he outscored Dardenne 30-18 among the “likely” voters. Except that among the “chronic” voters, Dardenne leads Nungesser 28-23. So if he’s using the numbers to indicate that he’s getting some traction among folks who are often-but-not-always engaged in politics and elections, he’s correct.

Somehow, though, that isn’t the impression Billy’s giving – his statement reads more like the engaged voters are seeing through Dardenne’s smoke and choosing Nungesser. And that’s not what the poll shows.

Which is not to say that Nungesser’s lying and Dardenne’s telling the truth. We’re not taking a position on that. We criticized Nungesser for ducking debates because we thought it was a dumb move and because we’ll always take up for our friends Harold and Joyce LaCour at the Baton Rouge Pachyderms, whose hard work setting up a candidate forum for this race collapsed at the last minute when Nungesser pulled out. But that wasn’t a substantive judgement on the race or Nungesser’s candidacy in it; it was simply a statement that his move was a bad one.

So is spinning poll results which show a neck-and-neck race in which neither candidate appears to have either gotten an upper hand nor captured the attention of the voting public yet as a resounding endorsement of your campaign. Nungesser would have helped himself more had he stated that his campaign’s efforts to date have wiped out Dardenne’s advantage from incumbency and left it at that. Later in his campaign e-mail he actually did so…

Just 10-months ago Dardenne won the Special Election for Lt. Governor with 56% of the vote, but since then he has seen a 30-point drop in his ballot strength according to these numbers.

That’s a fair statement and a valid reaction to Dardenne’s having polled 26 percent. It would have been much more defensible for Billy to have led with that and claimed that the poll shows Dardenne’s support is razor-thin if better than half of it could disappear in the face of a Republican challenger; that’s a lot stronger lede than to grasp at something the poll’s results really doesn’t show.

Nungesser’s e-mail then takes issue with Dardenne’s latest campaign commercial, the one in which the announcer rattles off a list of charges against Nungesser in a pace which increases from conversational to frenetic until saying “there’s more, but we’re out of time.”

Allow me to take a minute to set the record straight:

•    Tax Liens:  The issue is over a late filing of wage taxes and records in 2005 after the Hurricanes, and there is no tax lien at this time.

•    Federal Investigation:  Like other parishes that have received a considerable amount of post-Katrina recovery dollars, the federal government has records, which has led to an intense investigation. I welcome the review and have cooperated fully because I believe in transparency, which is why I am working to put the parish checkbook register online for the last 10 years.

•    BP:  I think it is pretty clear where I stand in regards to BP. My business interests are in a blind trust and my partner in a marina did contract with BP to use the facility during the oil spill without my knowledge, but I received no profit from it.

•    Tourism Video:  I opposed the video because it was a waste of tax dollars by the Sheriff’s office. I am offended that Jay Dardenne has sought to make this a political issue and even used state resources to obtain a copy of the video and promote it as part of his smear campaign against me.

•    Spending:  I have returned a surplus to the taxpayers every year since taking office including $17 million last year, and any increase in overall spending is due to recovery money being spent which I will never apologize for trying to rebuild my community.

•    Unemployment:  I have created jobs with over 700 new or expanded businesses in the parish. By Jay’s standard, he grew unemployment in the state as an elected official over 100%.

•    Grew Government Jobs:  Through private funding and the reallocation of parish revenues, I was able to establish a paid firefighter system in the parish, which was needed because of the geographic challenges of a 100-mile wide area with waterways to navigate.

Those statements are all perfectly valid responses to Dardenne attacks and voters can decide for themselves what side to take.

The lesson from the poll is that the voters haven’t made any such decision. Some 49 percent of the poll’s respondents said they’re undecided in the race. And drawing any conclusions other than that either candidate could win on Oct. 22 at this point is a foolish thing to do.

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