The publicly released polling data on Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District is like a scrap of food to a starving man – it may not be the best information, but it’s all we’ve got.
North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling on Oct. 18 released an automated poll showing Democrat Jon Hulburd with a 46 to 44 lead over GOP nominee Ben Quayle in the heavily Republican district, with 10 percent undecided. The poll was commissioned by the liberal blog Daily Kos.
The poll came on the heels of a blog post by the website RareJazzCongress.com that showed Quayle up by about 2 points. The website said the poll was conducted by a conservative 501(c)(4) group, though it didn’t say who commissioned the poll or who conducted it.
Neither campaign has released its own polling data, and Public Policy Polling was the first group to release its own survey on the race. Pollster Michael O’Neil, of Tempe-based O’Neil Associates, said many people might be inclined to dismiss the poll because it was commissioned by such a partisan group. But the biggest reason for skepticism is that Public Policy Polling uses robocalls to survey voters, which O’Neil said are far cheaper and far less trustworthy than polls that have real people asking the questions.
“This is what you get when nobody’s willing to pay for it,” O’Neil said. “I don’t think the methodology is inherently biased. It’s just not reliable.”
As for the poll cited by RareJazzCongress.com, which used a live operator to survey 331 likely voters, O’Neil said the lack of information on who conducted the poll and who paid for are bad signs, as is the 4.1 percent margin of error. A poll of 331 voters should have a margin of error of about 5.5 percent, he said.
Hulburd has hammered Quayle repeatedly over his connections to a racy, sex-themed website, and the poll showed those allegations stand out in voters’ minds. Fifty-two percent of respondents said they had an unfavorable opinion of Quayle, compared to 34 percent who said their opinion of him was favorable.
O’Neil said the unfavorable opinions aren’t surprising, given the crush of negative publicity Quayle has gotten over his ties to DirtyScottsdale.com, now known as TheDirty, as well as a perception among some that he is unqualified.
“Ask anybody what they know about him and they’ll tell you the racy website and his daddy used to be vice president,” O’Neil said.
But some of the numbers don’t quite add up, said GOP consultant Chris Baker. Hulburd has aggressively courted female Republican voters, even running an ad on a Christian radio station bashing Quayle over his ties to the website. But the PPP poll showed Hulburd faring better among Republican men than women.
And 281 of the 655 respondents listed themselves as moderates, with 66 percent choosing Hulburd. The poll, however, didn’t break down the party affiliation of the self-described moderates. Baker said 60 to 65 percent of Republicans usually identify themselves as conservatives.
“My sense is the poll itself is heavy on moderate Republicans, and that’s probably what’s throwing Hulburd’s numbers up,” he said.
Aside from the robocall methodology, the poll didn’t have any glaring deficiencies. Its sample of 655 likely voters leaned heavily on Republican and independent voters, and the “who would you vote for” questions were asked first, before other questions that could’ve swayed the respondents’ answers, O’Neil said.
The Hulburd campaign played up Quayle’s unfavorable ratings. Campaign spokesman Josh Abner also touted Hulburd’s whopping 66 to 27 lead among the 281 respondents who identified themselves as moderates.
“Arizonans have seen Ben Quayle in action – he miscalculated the federal budget by $11 trillion and they know about his ever-changing story on writing for a sex-steeped website,” said Hulburd spokesman Josh Abner. “Voters also know Ben Quayle doesn’t have the chops to get our economy moving again and is simply another politician trying to cash in on a last name.”
Quayle campaign spokesman Jay Heiler’s only response was that Quayle is “very confident about the progress of the race.”
“We … advise the Hulburd campaign to rely heavily on the data,” Heiler quipped.
O’Neil doesn’t put a lot of faith in the poll but said it’s better than nothing, as long as people recognize its flaws.
“Here’s your choice – you either have no information or information from a methodology that I don’t put a whole lot of stock in. I’ll go for imperfect information over no information, but would I stake my life on it? Nope,” O’Neil said.