Ten days ago, a Mississippi political consulting and polling firm named Triumph Campaigns released a survey of the early-stage Louisiana governor’s race which had three main findings. First, that David Vitter had a 35-33 lead over Democrat John Bel Edwards, with Jay Dardenne at 15 percent and Scott Angelle at 7. Second, that current Gov. Bobby Jindal’s approval rating was a dismal 27 percent, with 63 percent disapproving (an almost total reversal of Jindal’s numbers from four years ago). And third, that a generic Republican only beats a generic Democrat by a 53-47 count at this point in Louisiana, an indication that Jindal’s struggles with the voters were poisoning the Republican brand in the state.
While Triumph isn’t an established player in Louisiana politics, the survey did make something of an impact. If nothing else, Angelle’s slight bump to seven percent – he’d been at just two percent in a previous poll – was put forth by no less an observer than LAPolitics.com’s Jeremy Alford as a reason for Angelle having been attacked by Vitter and Edwards at a debate sponsored by the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association and on the radio last week.
But Louisiana pollster Bernie Pinsonat, whose company Southern Media and Opinion Research has been something of a standard in the state’s polling for some time, dismissed the poll, its results and its methodology in an interview posted at BayouBuzz.com yesterday.
If you surveyed Louisiana asking voters who is John Bel Edwards and what elective office is he is running for: very unlikely fifteen percent would know of John Bel Edwards. This result might be possible if voters were prompted with questions providing description of Edwards. This survey does not reveal what questions were actually asked. The order in which questions are asked determine any survey’s reliability. Polling and news organizations developed standards to follow when releasing surveys to the media (National Council on Public Polls); I question whether this survey followed the most important standards that would enable the media to report on the poll. Who paid for survey is absolutely required to allow the public the opportunity determine the agenda of the polling firm.
And after attacking the poll’s methodology by saying that an auto-dialed survey can’t legally reach cell phones, whose users must by law be called by hand according to Pinsonat, and therefore a “robopoll” like Triumph’s misses 30 percent of Louisiana’s electorate, Pinsonat also attacked the polling firm’s honesty.
Lazy reporters are easily used by dishonest pollsters to promote political agendas for their sleazy clients. Common sense would dictate to any competent reporter they need to ask a couple of important question before writing story on any poll. Who paid for survey, what questions were asked and in what order protects the public and reputable polling firms. Who is dumb enough to believe a pollster who claims no one paid for poll?
When the Triumph survey came out, we contacted the company’s president Justin Brassell about who paid for the poll. Brassell told us he paid for it himself as a marketing tool to drum up business in Louisiana since there is a statewide cycle going on. Having dabbled a little in the conducting of polls over the years we can attest that a “robopoll” like Triumph’s isn’t prohibitively expensive when buying it at retail and it’s even less so when the pollster himself decides to do it. He’s essentially firing up his computer, inputting a call list and starting a program. A few thousand dollars at most will cover those costs, so it isn’t implausible that a pollster seeking business in Louisiana might release a high-profile survey to get attention.
Were Triumph’s numbers credible? We can’t answer that question definitively at this point but what we can say is they’ve been repeated.
This morning, MarblePort Polling, a firm owned by Ethan Zorfas – who served as the general consultant for Bill Cassidy’s successful U.S. Senate win over Mary Landrieu last year, released a survey with virtually identical numbers to the Triumph poll.
With seven months to go, the race for Governor is solidifying into a Republican versus Democrat run-off. Currently, Republican US Senator David Vitter leads with 33.5% while Democrat State Legislator John Bel Edwards follows in a close second with 31.3%. Jay Dardenne and Scott Angelle trail with 14% and 7.2% respectively.
MarblePort also found Jindal badly underwater in job approval (28-63) and Republicans holding just a six point lead (46-40) in favorability over Democrats.
Now, it could well be that those numbers reflect the same methodology as Triumph, and it could well be that by not reaching those voters who only use cell phones the pollsters are missing a key demographic and psychographic constituency whose participation would make these numbers substantially different. Perhaps cellular-only voters are big Jay Dardenne fans, or perhaps they love Bobby Jindal, or whatever. We can’t answer that question and neither can any of the three pollsters involved since none have apparently polled cell phone users in the past 10 days.
But what we can say is there is a trend in these polls which reflects what our theory of the race has been all along. Namely, that Vitter holds about a third of the electorate, the Democrats – with Edwards as their sole standard bearer so far – hold another third, and the final third is split between Dardenne, Angelle and the undecideds. That points to a Vitter-Edwards runoff unless something changes that would alter the race in a fundamental way.
There is a long time for such an event to occur. In the meantime, we have two polls which give us some basic assumptions about the state of Louisiana’s electoral politics to work from.