Friday, December 11, 2009

Politicians, Supporters Swarm MPW Polls (Updated) is on the verge of collapse as MPW readers are pouring in to vote in our last three polls: Senate challengers, At-Large County Council challengers and At-Large County Council incumbents. But the story of the efforts to affect these polls is more fascinating than their actual results.

Senate Challengers

This poll asks respondents which potential Senate challenger has the best chance of winning: Delegate Saqib Ali (D-39) over Senator Nancy King, former Delegate Cheryl Kagan (D-17) over Senator Jennie Forehand, Delegate Roger Manno (D-19) over Senator Mike Lenett or none of the above (all the incumbents win). After the first 50 votes, Manno’s percentage was higher than 60%. But then Saqib Ali rallied his base on his Facebook page and he began to close the gap.

After 4 PM yesterday, an interesting thing happened: None of the Above’s total skyrocketed and blew away all the challengers. We could not trace the source. Bear in mind that our poll prohibits multiple votes from the same cookie and the same IP address. After the incumbent protection votes slowed down, Kagan alerted her Facebook friends to the poll and caught up quickly.

But then Ali sent out a second pitch to his Facebook friends and surged again.

As of this writing, the Senate challenger poll has attracted 720 votes – by far the highest total we have ever had for a restricted-vote poll. All three challengers are essentially tied with roughly one-quarter of the vote apiece.

So what has happened? We have no evidence that Manno tried to influence the outcome, but he is doing just as well as the other challengers. Where did the pro-incumbent votes come from? We wonder if Senate President Mike “Big Daddy” Miller was involved in beefing up the incumbents! He clearly has the motive, resources and deviousness necessary to pull it off.

At-Large County Council Challengers

Manipulation is afoot here as your author was apparently double-crossed by one of his spies. We told a small handful of informants earlier this week that the polls were going up, including one testing support for each of the County Council at-large challengers. One spy must have leaked the information in a mass email on Thursday morning. We obtained the email, but not direct proof of the identity of the double agent. Here it is:

I’ve been told that at at 3:00 pm today, there will be an online poll for the strongest at-large challenger for Montgomery County Council. Hans Riemer, (a smart-growth/transit advocate, former Rock the Vote director, former Obama National Youth Director, current AARP staffer) will be one of the candidates (and in my opinion the best challenger). He's young, bright, has lived outside of the area before, and is raising a family in downtown Silver Spring -- all things that gave him a better perspective on the changing needs of the area than his competitors.

Please vote for him after 3:00 and spread the word widely!

(Normally I don't pay attention to online polls, but I suspect a strong showing by Hans here will raise eyebrows).
This miscreant is very, very lucky that we have not launched an all-out investigation for the purpose of outing this espionage! But we have strong suspicions about your identity!

No matter. Riemer had an edge in the beginning because his backers were forewarned, but once the poll was public, the other challengers had every opportunity to make their own push. None of them took it. At this moment, Riemer has more than 60% of the vote and no one else has more than 18%. We are amazed at the lack of interest in the rest of the field. Where are their supporters?

This proves one thing: the Draft Hans Riemer movement is real. Whether Riemer enters the race is anyone’s guess, but if every one of his online voters is ready to volunteer for his campaign, he could be a real factor in the at-large election.

At-Large Incumbents

We have found no box-stuffing here, primarily because this is a poll testing the incumbents’ weakness, not their strength. But the big loser is clear: 60.2% voted for Duchy Trachtenberg as the least likely incumbent to be re-elected.

The rank order of the poll results matches our prediction from last February, which found George Leventhal to be the strongest incumbent, followed by Nancy Floreen, Marc Elrich and (lastly) Trachtenberg.

In asking her Facebook friends to vote for her, District 17 challenger Cheryl Kagan said, “While I think random online polls are totally bogus, others will take it seriously.” She has a point. There is no evidence that our poll respondents are representative of actual Democratic primary voters. But that has not stopped politicians and their supporters from attempting to influence our polls for two reasons:

1. There are no other metrics right now to evaluate the progress of these races. The only measure coming up in the near future is the finance reporting due in January. After that, roughly five months may pass until the next important milestone, which is MCEA’s endorsement announcement. And then the next finance report will be due in August. So any measure showing momentum by a candidate can be helpful for the purpose of shaping perceptions. And of course, shaping perception is the very heart of politics.

2. Local politicians respect MPW readers. They know that you are the largest, best-informed and most influential group of political information consumers in the state. If they can show that they enjoy your support, they will have an edge in generating positive publicity for themselves and perhaps even raising money and picking up endorsements. Some of these elections may be close (like Council District 4) and any advantage can make the difference.

So keep watching these polls. The efforts to affect them will likely continue. And we’ll check back on them before Christmas to take stock of what you think about these races.

Update: Starting around 8 this morning, None of the Above made a huge gain in the Senate Challenger poll. One or more of the incumbents is very nervous.