Sun, July 21

CD1 lead depends on which poll people believe

U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi's 13-point lead over Democrat Ellen Simon in the general election has remained exactly the same since a similar poll this past month, according to Northern Arizona University's Social Research Lab.

A recent third poll called Majority Watch, using an automatic calling system that's untested in congressional surveys, finds Simon ahead by five points.

Not surprisingly, Simon's spokesperson points to the Majority Watch poll as the most accurate, while the Renzi campaign says the NAU polls are the best.

"We don't really put much weight on that poll," Renzi's press secretary, Vartan Djihanian, said of the Majority Watch survey of registered voters. "Ellen Simon is living in a fantasy land if she thinks she's ahead of us in the polls."

The Majority Watch poll shows that the more people hear about Simon, the more they like her, since that poll came after the first NAU poll, said David Flaks, Simon's campaign manager.

"Clearly, more voters are hearing Ellen's message of change," Flaks said.

Libertarian candidate David Schlosser figured the Majority Watch poll must not be too accurate since it didn't even include him.

NAU conducted its polls Sept. 15-17 and Oct. 20-22. They have a plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Those polls both found Renzi with 45 percent of the votes among likely voters, Simon with 32 percent and Libertarian David Schlosser with 2 percent if the election were to take place on the day of the calls. The remaining respondents were unclear about which candidate to pick.

"It's fascinating that the dynamics of the district have not changed in the last four weeks," NAU Social Research Lab Director Fred Solop said. He expected the race to tighten after Simon spent more than $800,000.

Solop noted that NAU's latest poll shows Simon actually losing 9 percent of her Democratic base, while Democrats who said they'd vote for Republican Renzi increased by 8 percent.

On the other hand, 22 percent of those in the NAU poll remain undecided, and late deciders tend not to choose incumbents, Solop said.

While 11 percent said they don't know anything about Renzi, 34 percent said they don't know about Simon and 77 percent said that about Schlosser.

"It's pretty late to try to gain name recognition throughout this vast district," Solop observed.

RT Strategies and Constituent Dynamics conducted the Majority Watch poll Oct. 8-10. It found 51 percent of the respondents preferred Simon and 46 percent liked Renzi. Phone numbers listed on the Internet for the two companies were incorrect.

The Majority Watch poll concluded only 2 percent of the respondents were undecided. That indicates the recorded calling voice tended to force people to choose one of the two top candidates, Solop said. Respondents provide answers by pressing keys on touch-tone phones.

"The record for automated phone polls nationally is just not very good," Solop said. "We don't do them. I don't believe in them."

A story about the Majority Watch polls on the Web site also questions the automated polls that Majority Watch conducted in 30 of the most competitive congressional districts.

"While the Majority Watch approach is innovative, it is also new and untested, and it includes a lot of departures from the standard survey practice," wrote Mark Blumenthal in a column.

The accuracy of the polls will be clearer after Nov. 7, he noted.

The Associated Press 2005 Stylebook advises the media to "avoid polls in which computers conduct telephone interviews using a recorded voice.

"Among the problems of these surveys are that they do not randomly select respondents within a household, as reliable polls do," the AP Stylebook states, "and they cannot exclude children from polls in which adults or registered voters are the population of interest."

This particular poll tried to take an extra verification step by asking people to key in their birth dates and then checking that against voter registration records.