Perry camp touts UT poll results to national GOP activists, media--but is the methodology accurate?
Sat March 21, 2009 8:22 am

The following e-mail went out to Republican activists, consultants, and Washington media types over the name of Perry campaign guru Dave Carney. Among the recipients were consultant Arthur Finkelstein, representatives of the Club for Growth, Washington Post columnist Chris Cizzilla, and prominent Patton Boggs attorney Benjamin Ginsberg, who represented the Bush campaign in legal maneuvering over the Florida recount in 2000.

Subject: Hutchison Team Quiet About New Poll

The only thing positive that the Hutchison campaign has had to talk about since getting in the Governor's race last year has been public poll numbers showing her with a sizable lead. (Like many of the elite they confuse popularity with electability.)

Well today that came to an end and not surprisingly the Hutchison campaign has gone silent.

Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News yesterday reported, "Asked who they'd vote for it the primary were today, 36 percent of registered likely GOP voters said Hutchison, 30 percent for Perry. A quarter say they remain undecided -- a huge number. The survey was conducted Feb. 24-March 6. The margin of error is 5.7 percent -- which means the results are effectively a tossup.

The poll was conducted by the Department of Government and the Texas Politics project at UT.

That is in sharp contrast to the polls showing her with a 25 point lead before she announced her candidacy.

This follows her anemic fundraising performance during the first reporting period of the campaign where she raised less then $32,000. In contrast over the same time period Governor Perry raised more than $1,000,000.

Couple all that with these two articles that came out today and it’s been a bad first few months for Senator Hutchison's fledging campaign.

[end of release]

Click here for the link to the first article and here for the link to the second.

A couple of comments:

1. Isn't it a bit odd to issue a statement touting a poll that shows you behind? The obvious inference is that the first two Hutchison polls, showing her with a 25 point lead over Perry, have had an effect on how Republicans in Washington views the race.

2. The release quotes from Wayne Slater's article about the UT poll. It does not quote the next paragraph, which addresses the poll's controversial methodology:

The poll was conducted by the Department of Government and the Texas Politics project at UT. The survey was conducted using the Internet rather than live telephone calls, the traditional method of conducting polling. The sample was picked at random and the results weighted to reflect the state's demographics. Some traditional pollsters question the validity of Internet polling. UT Professor Daron Shaw says contacting people via the Internet is a way of countering the increasing number of people who aren't reachable on their land-line telephone.

I understand what the pollsters are trying to do. Cell phones and caller ID have, as Slater wrote, made it difficult to reach people who do not have land lines. The Internet allows the poll to reach these people. But you don't get a true sample, and you have to rely on people's word about whether they are who they say they are -- "Republican primary voters," for example. The universe of people who are polled on the Internet is different from the universe of people who are polled in traditional telephone surveys. They sign up to be polled. This means that they are more likely to be interested in politics than the people who are polled by random digit dialing.

Here is the poll's discussion of favorable/unfavorable and job approval numbers:

Two distinct sets of questions allow us some leverage on how Texans view their political leaders. First, respondents were asked to use a 0-100 "thermometer" scale to rate how favorably (or unfavorably) they viewed national and statewide political figures. By and large, Texans were mildly positive towards their leaders. President Barack Obama received a mean rating of 53, while Alaska governor Sarah Palin received a 50. At the state level, Governor Rick Perry and Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst each received a 51, while Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn received 57 and 55, respectively. Newly elected speaker Joe Straus received a 44, but a majority of respondents indicated they were not familiar enough with him to offer a rating.

The favorable/unfavorable number in a typical poll represents the percentage of respondents who view the candidate favorably. In thermometer polling, the favorable/unfavorable number represents the strength of the "feeling" respondents have toward a particular figure. A 51% favorable rating in an ordinary poll is a good number--it means that more than half of the respondents view the person favorably. In thermometer scoring, a 51% result means that a respondent is lukewarm toward the person.

When I first wrote about the poll, I said that it was good news for Perry, bad news for Hutchison. I'm not comfortable enough with the poll's methodology to let that comment stand.

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