Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Sonia and Those Polls

Regular readers here know I'm likely too consumed with the Second Suffolk Senate race -- Dianne Wilkerson and challenger Sonia Chang-Díaz. On the recently released poll showing Chang-Díaz ahead, I mealy mouthed the findings, referring to a two-year-old report in the Phoenix, calling for Heavy on the Salt.

It was almost like my old reporter days. I ended up following up and getting connected by her campaign to Dem pollster and strategist Dan Cohen. He conducted the poll the first time Chang-Díaz ran and the latest one. He says he has nothing to apologize for in 2006. His consultancy is Connection Strategies.

That poll, he says, was message testing, not voting. "It didn't have Sonia winning, but it did show that she could close the gap" that she started with as an unknown. Because Wilkerson hadn't bothered to collect the 300 signatures to get on the ballot, both ran sticker campaigns. Chang-Díaz came within 6% points, about 700 votes, short. She did, in fact, close the gap, but still lost.

Even there, Cohen rues the short campaign time and resulting lack of people on the ground. He says that at many polling places, the Chang-Díaz camp did not have enough workers to be there to provide stickers for voters entering.

Since her loss, Chang-Díaz has not stopped campaigning, according to Cohen. She continued to raise money and speak publicly, as well as work to put a solid organization together. "In a lot of ways, this has been a two-year campaign for her," he says.

Leaving out the favorability and equally subjective question of whether Wilkerson deserves re-election, the how-I'll-vote question appears for the first time in this poll. The chart here shows this month's figures.

The Chang-Díaz folk claim a combined lead on voters who lean/are probable/definitely voters for the candidates. Those are Chang-Diaz 47.2%, Wilkerson 29.7% and undecided 23%.

That combines the undecided with a margin of error of 4.8%. Cohen is quick to say he wants Chang-Diaz to win but knows that four weeks before a party primary is a long time in politics. Many things could happen. "I can't say Sonia's definitely going to win, but I like the results," he adds.

In his polling of 417 likely Dem voters, he broke down the respondents many ways, including into four major neighborhood divisions (South End/Back Bay, Roxbury/Dorchester, Fenway/Mission Hill, and Jamaica Plain). He sees strong support for Sonia even where she does not have a solid lead in one place. He is sure there won't be runaway leads for Wilkerson in any one place as there were last time.

He also confirmed what many of us have long suspected, that the insider party buzz bears little relationship to what voters think and how they act. As Cohen puts it, "The Ward Committees are totally disconnected from the voters." He cited the South End, where Chang-Díaz led five-to-one, but the two committees endorsed Wilkerson.

"The insider chatter has almost no relationship to the voters," he adds.

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