Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Louisiana 4: Poll Draws Criticism from Opponents

By Nathan L. Gonzales

A seemingly innocuous poll has created quite a stir in a very competitive Republican primary in Louisiana’s 4th district.

Earlier this month, physician John Fleming released a poll, conducted July 25-27 by Southern Media & Opinion Research, showing him leading the GOP race with 43 percent. Trucking company executive Chris Gorman was second with 17 percent and former Bossier Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Thompson was third with 15 percent.

But after the release, there has been a significant effort by Fleming’s opponents, especially the Gorman campaign, to discredit the poll. They are questioning the methodology and claiming there were “push questions” before the ballot question.

An examination of the first part of the survey (through the trial heat), released by Fleming’s campaign, shows that it did not include a clean ballot test, as independent observers have come to expect. But, on the other hand, it’s inaccurate to call the early questions “push questions.”

The poll started with standard questions including voter identification, a right direction/wrong track question about the state, favorable/unfavorable questions about President Bush, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and retiring Rep. Jim McCrery (R). It then asked respondents to identify the most important issues their Congressman needs to address and the most important issues to them personally.

Respondents were then asked whether they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the three Republican Congressional candidates. But instead of being asked only about the candidates’ names, those taking the poll were given brief biographical information about the three Republican hopefuls, including the candidates’ ages, occupations, marital status and number of children. Military service was also noted, but since Fleming is the only one to serve, his bio was the only one to include it.

The initial ballot followed, but referred to “Dr. John Fleming” while the other candidates did not have a salutation.

It’s unclear whether the biographical information made a difference. But in a race where all three candidates started virtually unknown, the bio information could have had an impact.

It’s also not unreasonable that Fleming leads the race. A July 16-21 Kitchens Group poll for likely Democratic nominee Paul Carmouche, over-sampled the Republican primary and showed Fleming ahead with 27 percent to Gorman’s 20 percent and Thompson’s 14 percent.

The Gorman campaign has declined to release any recent polling of its own to dispute the results.

After the initial ballot in Fleming’s poll, the campaign tested messages and issues — a standard procedure often referred to by political insiders as “push questions” — and followed with a second ballot test that was not released.

Because message testing does not constitute a “push poll,” and because the push questions came after the initial ballot, those questions did not influence the initial ballot. The way the first ballot was introduced to those being polled, however, could have produced distorted results.

This item first appeared on on August 18, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.