Column | Hey, Buddy, Wanna Buy a Poll? | Fair Game | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Hey, Buddy, Wanna Buy a Poll? 

Fair Game

Published July 7, 2010 at 8:04 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

A national dispute between Research 2000 pollster Del Ali and Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas could have an impact on political polling in Vermont.

For years, Research 2000 (R2K) has been the pollster for WCAX-TV and other news outlets because it’s a reasonably priced alternative for small-market newspapers and TV stations.

Typically, a poll of 700 or more respondents runs between $15,000 and $20,000. Research 2000 did it for closer to $5000, but with a smaller sample size — around 400 “likely voters.”

Kos is suing R2K, alleging the company produced bogus, or at least seriously flawed, results in a series of polls conducted for the site. R2K denies the charges and is threatening to countersue.

While R2K claims its data are legit, the results do raise questions, according to retired Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis.

Two of R2K’s primary polls this year proved disastrously wrong: In the Democratic primary for Arkansas governor, R2K had Ron Sparks beating Artur Davis by eight points. On election day, Sparks beat Davis by 24 points. In California’s GOP gubernatorial primary, R2K had Tom Campbell beating Carly Fiorina by 15 points. She won by 34 points.

Could this explain the surprising results of Vermont’s 2002 gubernatorial contest? That year, R2K conducted two polls for WCAX: the first showed then-Lt. Gov. Doug Racine besting then-Treasurer Jim Douglas by 10 points; the second, by five points. Then, in the days right before election, Mason-Dixon Polling & Research conducted a poll of 625 voters for the Burlington Free Press that showed Racine with a shocking 10-point lead. On Election Day, Douglas defeated Racine, 45-42 percent.

Fast forward to 2010. In February, R2K contacted 400 “likely voters” about the governor’s race in Vermont.

R2K reported that Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie bested all Democrats in one-on-one contests. Secretary of State Deb Markowitz looked to be Dubie’s only serious challenger. Two later polls by Rasmussen Reports produced similar findings.

Anson Tebbetts, WCAX’s news director, isn’t ready to say if the station will use Research 2000 again or find another pollster.

While the mainstream media have largely ignored the polling brouhaha, Vermont’s savvy bloggers were all over it.

Philip Baruth, a candidate for Chittenden County State Senate, mused on his blog Vermont Daily Briefing: “Will the Research 2000 meltdown lead to a reassessment of polling in the state? Will Rasmussen continue to write the cycle’s gubernatorial narrative almost singlehandedly?”

Rasmussen has a reputation for leaning conservative. More problematic is that it culls information from touch-tone telephone responses rather than conversations with real people, added Davis.

A poll in early September, right after the Democrats pick a candidate, and another in early to mid-October would best gauge how voters view the campaign for Vermont governor, said Davis.

And since no media in Vermont can afford an in-depth, $20,000 poll, here’s my idea: The Vermont Association of Broadcasters and the Vermont Press Association ask their members to cooperatively fund two public polls and share the findings.

We could even hire locally. ICF Macro, with offices in Burlington, polled in the 2008 election. The University of Vermont’s Center for Rural Studies conducts a bona fide annual “Vermonter poll.”

We’re all in this democracy thing together, right?

Underdog vs. Bulldog

Last week, Democrat-turned-Republican Auditor Thomas M. Salmon found egregious errors in Vermont’s sex-offender registry.

Some people who should be on the registry weren’t, and others who shouldn’t be on it were on the list. Rightfully, the report put the registry’s expansion on hold until the problems are fixed.

It was refreshing to see Salmon’s office get attention for the work it’s supposed to be doing instead of the personal foibles of its top dog. Those have ranged from a DUI charge to paranoid rants directed at perceived political enemies, including this columnist.

This week, a widely published story by Wilson Ring of the Associated Press focused on Salmon’s reelection campaign and the Democrat hoping to unseat him: former State Auditor Ed Flanagan, who is now a state senator. Ring noted Flanagan’s biggest P.R. challenge: Last year, two patrons saw him masturbating in the Men’s Wellness Center at the Greater Burlington YMCA — a story first reported by Seven Days. Flanagan initially denied the allegations, but now tells Ring his actions were due to “disinhibition syndrome” brought on by the traumatic brain injury he suffered in a near-fatal car crash five years ago.

Should be a humdinger of a battle, Ring observed: the candidates are two headstrong pols with a penchant for self-sabotage.

But Ring left out a crucial detail: the third candidate. Flanagan has to win a primary against Doug Hoffer, a Burlington-based policy analyst, before he goes head to head with Salmon. Hoffer, who has never run for statewide office, has already won the support of the AFL-CIO and the Vermont State Employees Association.

The Barre-Montpelier Times Argus and the Rutland Herald had already run stories about Hoffer’s candidacy but published Ring’s piece nonetheless. Editors on summer vacation, perhaps?

Ring’s flawed AP story also appeared in the Brattleboro Reformer and other papers. As of press time, there’s been no word from AP on how it plans to correct the error.

This isn’t the first time Hoffer’s been overlooked. The Burlington Free Press left him out of a story the day after the official filing deadline. The paper later corrected the story online and issued a correction in print.

What does a guy have to do to get some attention in this auditor’s race, anyway?

No, wait. Forget I asked.

Division of Labor

In a break from their union brothers and sisters, the Teamsters Local 597 — a 1000-member union headquartered in Barre — endorsed Senate President Peter Shumlin in the Democratic primary for governor.

The Teamsters is the first union to back someone other than Sen. Doug Racine, who has picked up the endorsements from the Vermont AFL-CIO, the Vermont chapter of the National Education Association and the Vermont State Employees Association. Those three unions represent about 30,000 workers.

The Teamsters has broken ranks before. In 2008, the union backed Democrat Gaye Symington over Progressive-turned-Independent Anthony Pollina in the governor’s race.

In the end, Symington ended up coming in third … behind Pollina.


At least one more union primary endorsement is up for grabs.

The 325-member Professional Fire-fighters of Vermont will interview statewide pols in Quechee on July 14 with the intention of endorsing in the primary. A Dem is not guaranteed to get the nod.

The PFV has had a history of endorsing Republican Gov. Douglas, so Lt. Gov. Dubie may have a shot.

“We have a 100 percent winning track record at the statewide level and aim to keep that intact,” said Matt Vinci, PFV president.

Something’s in the Air

Despite a recent, much-publicized speeding ticket and a big dis from a leading environmental group, Sen. Peter Shumlin is acting like a candidate with momentum. He’s the first candidate to start running TV ads.

Shumlin is spending $35,650 on 253 ads to air on four major local networks and Burlington-area cable. The 30-second ad features Shumlin in front of a whiteboard talking up key campaign promises: universal health care, early education and broadband, along with an expansion of renewable energy.

On July 15 we’ll learn whether Shumlin’s paying for this early ad out of his considerable personal war chest or with donations from other people. That’s when campaign finance reports are due.

None of his challengers has plans to launch an air assault until early August, if at all. They’re focused on the ground game and getting people to vote early. Early voting starts Monday.

“We won’t be doing TV in the near future,” said Amy Shollenberger, Racine’s campaign manager. “We are focusing on talking with Vermonters right now.”

Peter’s Principles

An alert reader of the Seven Days blog, Blurt, noted that Sen. Peter Shumlin posted Andy Bromage’s profile on his campaign website. Several major problems: The headline was changed from “Peter Principled?” to “Seven Days: Shumlin Principled,” and there’s no link to the original article or credit to the illustrator.

At least when Sen. Susan Bartlett cribbed a quote from “Fair Game,” she linked to the original. Ditto Bromage’s profile, entitled “Finally Susan.”

I’d say Shumlin’s actions answer the question posed in the original headline.

Seniority Rules

Now that U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) is gone, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is the second-longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate. Only Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), who chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee, has served longer. Leahy, elected in 1974, is running for a seventh term this fall.

Leahy is the ranking Democrat on Appropriations, and if Inouye steps down he’d be in line to assume the chair. But that would mean he could no longer head the powerful Judiciary Committee that is overseeing Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination. Last summer, Leahy ran the show for Justice Sonia Sotomayor. If Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg decides to retire during Pres. Barack Obama’s tenure, he’d get the chance to shepherd a third new justice to the nation’s highest court.

Either way, as chair of Appropriations or Judiciary, Leahy has a plum job.

Long Live

A big thanks to all who crowned me “Social Media King” of Burlington during the #BTV Social Media Day. A shout out, too, to Nicole Ravlin of PMG Creative, who was crowned queen. Small Dog Electronics earned the “best business” distinction, and “best nonprofit” went to Vermont Public Radio.

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About The Author

Shay Totten

Shay Totten

Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.


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