Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Quantum Polling: to Observe is to Change

A new 7NEWS/Suffolk University poll was put out yesterday (via Adam Reilly) and, in some respects it's like many others that we've seen so far. Tom Reilly leads Deval Patrick by roughly 8-10 points, and with Christy Mihos in the race as an Independent candidate, both Democrats lead him and Republican Kerry Healey in the general. That said, what's different about this poll is that it reads like a big sloppy kiss to Christy Mihos. A total of eight questions ask about the respondent's opinions on Independent candidates in general and Mihos' positions in particular. Showing that the act of observing changes the phenomenon being observed, after the pollster describes a number of proposals put forth by the Mihos campaign, his poll numbers predictably jump up by ten points. In addition, Tom Reilly's numbers in that second question drop by 8 and Kerry Healey's drop by 6. One can't assume that this is because Mihos drains more votes from the Democrat naturally since respondents just heard about Mihos' campaign promises, and two questions pervious they were reminded that if a Democrat were elected Governor, Republicans claim that spending would be out of control (64% of those polled disagreed with this statement, to their credit).

If Suffolk is going to keep doing polls like this, Mihos won't need to hire his own pollster. In my opinion, this poll did as much to publicize the stands Mihos has taken as it did to measure public opinion. Did it cross a line into advocacy? No, but it did seem rigged to produce the overall outcome that the pollsters wanted -- that an Independent candidate has a shot at the corner office. Maybe I'm overreacting, but I think it's always good to be skeptical of polls that first ask who you're going to vote for, then tell you all the things candidate X is going to do, then ask "Now, who are you going to vote for?"

The poll was not all Mihos all the time, however, and it did provide some useful name recognition numbers. I like these because they break out the "never heard of" numbers from the undecideds. They show a couple of interesting things, one that Tom Reilly and Kerry Healey's favorable and unfavorable numbers are identical and also that Chris Gabrieli has roughly the same name recognition as Deval Patrick, while Christy Mihos lags slightly behind in that area. These numbers are always very sobering for me, because as someone who follows politics closely I often forget how early it is in the election cycle and how many people still have yet to tune in to the race. Here is the raw data:

FavorableUnfavorableNever Heard OfHeard of, Undecided
Mitt Romney49%37%2%12%
Tom Reilly36%31%9%25%
Kerry Healey36%31%12%22%
Chris Gabrieli21%8%33%38%
Deval Patrick19%13%33%35%
Christy Mihos15%17%37%31%
Reed Hillman9%9%50%33%

In addition, the poll shows that 88% of voters cannot name a single accomplishment of Kerry Healey's. 59% of them responded that she'd accomplished nothing and the other 29% plead ignorance. This has already been a topic of political ads, even this early. Yesterday morning on the way to work I heard a radio ad put out by the SEIU which attacked the Romney/Healey administration for exactly this. The spot was in the form of a quiz show, and the last question asked "Name one Kerry Healey accomplishment." The correct answer: "I can't think of one!"