The first e-mail came to the News-Sentinel at 8:21 a.m. announcing a new poll showing Republican David Harmer holding a six-point lead over incumbent Jerry McNerney in the 11th Congressional District race. The second e-mail came in 40 minutes later. It showed McNerney ahead by 10 percent.
What gives? Can there really be a 16-point difference between two polls?
Absolutely, said David Mermin, a pollster for McNerney, D-Pleasanton, who represents the Lodi area.
However, when representatives from both polling firms talked about their results, they showed that the rivalry between competing pollsters may be as intense as the rivalry among the candidates themselves.
Mermin, a partner at Lake Research Partners, said his firm has professional interviewers who determine respondents’ voting history, level of enthusiasm for the election and whether the pollster is talking to a voter new to the district.
Lake Research does live phone interviews, which Mermin said is a more effective way of polling than the automated system used by Harmer’s firm, Survey USA.
Using the automated system, in which a recorded voice asks questions and respondents answer by pushing buttons on their phone, it is impossible to know if an actual voter is answering the phone, Mermin said.
Those were fighting words to Jay Leve, who owns SurveyUSA.
“I have e-mailed you data which refutes the self-serving, uninformed commentary provided to you by a Lake intern,” Leve wrote in an e-mail to the News-Sentinel.
“SurveyUSA invented recorded-voice polling 20 years ago,” Leve said. “We have polled 900 separate election contests in all 50 states. Not only is there no evidence that recorded voice polling ‘skews’ the results, the evidence is to the contrary.”
And if that isn’t enough — “If the best story line the McNerney campaign can advance is (that) the nation’s most active election pollster (SurveyUSA) doesn’t know how to poll, and our sitting incumbent will win with the 45 percent of the vote, that is pitiful,” Leve said.
(For the record, the Lake Research Partners results weren’t sent to the News-Sentinel from a Lake intern. They were sent by Sarah Hersh, who was McNerney’s media director before taking a leave of absence to work on his campaign.)
Mermin said that his poll, which gave McNerney a 10-percent lead, doesn’t constitute a prediction that Mc-Nerney will win the election, because its poll was taken in late September.
“They’re snapshots in time, and minds can change,” Mermin said.
SurveyUSA, which determined that Harmer was ahead, broke down the poll results further:
- Among men, Harmer leads by 20 points.
- Among women, McNerney leads by six points — a 26-point gender gap.
- Harmer has “a bubble of support” among voters 35 to 49 years old.
- Both candidates are pretty even among older voters.
- Harmer has the support of eight of 10 registered Republicans.
- McNerney is supported by eight of 10 Democrats.
- Decline to state voters support Republicans by a 5-3 margin.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.