Two weeks before the June primary, a mayoral poll was released showing incumbent Kevin Faulconer with 48 percent of the vote, meaning he might be vulnerable to a November runoff. He needed 50 percent, plus one.
Indeed, one of his two opponents, Lori Saldaña, jumped on the findings and posted this on her Facebook page:
“Sssssssss – That’s the Sound of #Kevin Faulconer Losing Air. THIS is what we have all been working so hard for, to force this Special Election Republican Mayor into the high-turnout November General Election -- which he has NEVER had to face.”
On Election Day, Faulconer coasted to victory, with more than 57 percent of the vote.
That discrepancy between poll findings and election results was hardly unusual.
In the California Democratic presidential primary, some polls had Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in a dead heat as the election neared. It was considered a critical election, given that Sanders kept harping that his popularity was soaring and Clinton’s was evaporating. If Sanders could win California — the nation’s largest state — he could make that argument even more potent.
Clinton got 55 percent of the vote. (However, that could change, as provisional votes were still being counted at press time.)
These two examples are hardly the only ones. Polls leading up to the Michigan primary had Clinton with a commanding lead. Some had her up by as much as 20 points.
Sanders won that primary.
While polling has always been an inexact science, it appears to be growing more so.
Some pollsters still rely on phone calls to registered voters to compile their numbers, but fewer people have landlines. It’s more expensive for pollsters to call cell phones because they can’t use automation to reach cell phone users. They have to be called manually, according to federal law. Despite the added cost, more pollsters are adding cell phone calls, hoping for better results.
Another problem with landlines is that so many people screen their calls. Wired magazine noted the trend: “Whereas a survey in the 1970s or 1980s might have achieved a 70 percent response rate, by 2012 that number had fallen to 5.5 percent, and in 2016 it’s headed toward an infinitesimal 0.9 percent.”
That’s not all. People are less willing to answer polling questions. Pew Research Center reported that its response rate fell from 36 percent in 1997 to just 9 percent in 2012.
Some organizations are looking at new ways of polling. For instance, that mayoral poll was done by the Independent Voter Network (IVN), which targeted registered voters on Facebook.
According to a press release by IVN, the poll was completed by more than 600 people and had a +/- margin of error of 3.5 percent.
After the poll was released, there were some skeptics of this new methodology. Faulconer’s other challenger, Ed Harris, questioned it, telling KUSI-TV he thought the poll was “extremely unorthodox.”
IVN defends the poll. Jeff Powers, news editor for IVN, said it cautioned that results could swing because of the small number of people checking “Unknown” as an option.
Only 5 percent did so in the poll. Normally, that number is close to 20 percent, he said.
“This is a natural consequence of doing an active poll where the person chooses to participate, as opposed to a passive poll where someone gets called,” he said.
“We called Faulconer getting over 50 percent easily, because we figured the undecideds would go his way, as his opposition essentially had no money to spend on social, TV, mail, etc.,” Powers said.
The IVN poll was the only one done on the mayoral race by an outside organization. If candidates have the money, they may do their own polling, but they don’t normally release those findings to the public. They use results to gauge their strengths and weaknesses and plot strategy.
Faulconer’s polling firm is Competitive Edge Research & Communication, and its polling never showed Faulconer getting less than 50 percent of the vote, said John Nienstedt, president and CEO.
“The idea that he was not going to get 50 percent plus one was never supported by data,” Nienstedt said.
IVN’s poll methodology was “completely untested” and flawed, he said. For one thing, many voters are not on Facebook, so they weren’t reached.
“They’re not pollsters,” he said of IVN.
Faulconer had many strengths, Competitive Edge’s polling found. He’s likeable and had crossover appeal. He did well among Latino voters. And Faulconer’s edge never showed signs of waning.
“I was able to tell them the likelihood of winning (in June) was high,” Nienstedt said.
So why didn’t we see more independent polling?
“Good polling cost money,” Nienstedt said, noting that newspapers and TV stations, which have done polling in the past, have been hard hit financially.
For Faulconer, winning in June was important. He’s a Republican, and the general election tends to attract a greater number of Democratic voters.
Additionally, Faulconer faced political issues that could have made a November runoff more of a challenge.
For instance, he has put off weighing in on the merits of the Chargers’ proposed stadium and convention center annex downtown. He’s believed to oppose it.
It’s a polarizing issue.
If he did not win in June, he may have had to take a position, which could have damaged him. Support it, and he upsets tax-averse citizens. Oppose it, and he angers Chargers fans.
If he took no stand, he’d look indecisive, which is also dicey.
A number of pundits and political observers believed that Faulconer would get about 60 percent of the vote, given how his war chest was much greater than his opponents’. They also entered the race late.
Vince Vasquez of the National University System Institute for Policy Research predicted Faulconer would get that kind of support. He had no polling data but based his prediction on a number of other factors.
One was money. Faulconer raised $1.24 million, compared to his challengers, who had about $80,000 combined. Challengers can overcome a disadvantage in money as long as they have enough to get their message out citywide. Neither did, Vasquez said.
While both were arguably qualified — Harris served as an interim council member and Saldaña was a former state Assembly member — neither had the kind of resume Faulconer did.
And Faulconer, as mayor, focused much of his energy on improving neighborhoods and city services, Vasquez said, which directly affected citizens.
Lastly, Faulconer’s approval rating was hovering around 70 percent — higher than what former Mayor Jerry Sanders polled when he ran for re-election in 2008.
“He’s a different kind of Republican,” Vasquez said of Faulconer. “He’s acceptable to Democrats.”
One poll, done by the OB Rag, a progressive website, predicted Faulconer’s outcome extremely accurately. In it, Faulconer got 58.6 percent. (Unofficial results show Faulconer actually getting 58.7 percent.)
The OB Rag attributed the outcome to Faulconer supporters swamping the website.
“We make no pretense that our polls are scientific,” the OB Rag said. “They’re simply — usually — a reflection of the thinking of our readers. This time however — maybe not so much.”
OK, but boy did you guys nail it.
Take that Nate Silver,who’s considered the nation’s foremost election predictor.