Texans for Insurance Reform PAC has posted its latest poll by Opinion Analysts (Jeff Smith) of Austin. TIR is identified with the Texas Trial Lawyers Association. The poll involved 603 interviews with likely general election voters. The interviews were conducted September 28-October 2, which was during the period that Strayhorn was running a negative spot about Perry’s claim to have cut school property taxes on the average home by $2,000. The interviews also took place following early revelations of Kinky Friendman’s racially tinged humor.

Here are the results, with the August numbers in parentheses:

Perry 33% (41%)
Strayhorn 20% (14%)
Friedman 14% (13%)
Bell 13% (13%)
Undecided 19% (20%)

The poll shows an 8-point drop by Perry and a 6-point rise by Strayhorn. The results could be interpreted to validate pre-Labor Day assertions by the Strayhorn campaign that the inability of the Bell and Friedman camps to raise enough money to go up on TV and stay on for nine weeks would transform a four-way race into a head-to-head race by early October. If that occurs, an interesting cross-tab in the poll involves this question: “There is no runoff in the Governor’s race–whoever gets the most votes wins. But, suppose there were a runoff and the candidates were Republican Rick Perry and independent Carole Strayhorn. Which would you probably vote for?” The result:

Strayhorn 42.9%
Perry 41.7%

The key to the election right now is Democratic voters. Bell’s 13% represents about half of the Democratic base vote. If the missing half cares more about beating Perry than about party loyalty, the race could get very interesting. But the more likely scenario is that the base will come home to Bell in the end.

TIR’s political advisor, Dan McClung, issued a statement explaining the poll’s methodology. This is the statement in its entirety:

“Since the fall of 2005, Texans for Insurance Reform has commissioned its polling group, Opinion Analysts, Inc. of Austin, headed by veteran pollster Jeff Smith, to conduct five statewide samplings of the views of Texas voters on the unusual spread of candidates for Governor. As an organization, TIR has not taken sides in the Governor’s race, but we monitor its progress in order to weigh its impact on legislative contests where we have an active interest.

“The previous TIR survey, completed in early September, 2006, gave Governor Rick Perry a plurality similar to that found in its April, 2006 poll, and Democratic nominee Chris Bell and Independents Carol Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman all trailing at roughly their same paces. At that time we observed that such stagnant numbers were not considered unusual over the long Texas summers, but as Labor Day approached and broadcast advertising commenced some repositioning should slowly begin to take place.

“This week, as TIR’s early-October survey came out of the field, it was evident that important movement in voter opinion was indeed underway. In addition, a unique battery of tactical questions pairing challengers against Perry shines new light on the direction the race could take in ensuing weeks.

“Because of a rash of unstable polling results being produced through untested internet and recorded-device methodologies here and across the nation, TIR has chosen to post on its new website summaries of its five previous surveys on the Texas Governor’s race. These and future TIR polls are all executed by the same time-tested method of voter sampling that every highly-regarded polling organization has used exclusively for four decades … questioning of randomly-selected respondents by professional interviewers conducted over the telephone.

“And in an even more unprecedented attempt to provide stable information to website visitors, TIR is also posting the complete responses, including cross-tabulations, to the critical questions in its survey completed yesterday, October 2, 2006.”