BY JIM KANE
Most political observers would agree the District 6 County Commission race has developed into the most talked about and, of course, the most negative campaign in Broward County’s political history. This epic battle began over two years ago when Steve Geller announced his intention to challenge Sue Gunzburger in her reelection bid for County Commissioner.
Since then, both candidates have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for a district that has only 8000 likely Democratic Primary voters. Both candidates began TV and direct mail attack ads as early as May of this year, some four months prior to the election. And both candidates have made this election personal.
Back in July, 2008, the BrowardBeat.Com published our poll setting the base-line for this race which showed both candidates very popular, but with Steve Geller having far more “very favorable ratings than Sue Gunzburger. When placed in a “head to head match-up, Geller had a 14% lead at the time, making him the early front runner. We noted then that this poll was done absent of any campaigning and only reflected the current popularity of both candidates.
But after the mud bath both have taken in the past four months, it appears that Sue has taken a significant lead going into the final week — 51-30 percent with 19 percent undecided.
In Table 1, we show a comparison of our two surveys, one taken in July, 2008, and, the most recent poll completed from August 14 to August 16, 2010, of 403 likely Democratic Primary voters (see Methodology below).
|Later this month Democratic voters will be able to select a candidate for||August||July|
|District 6 County Commission. If the Democratic Primary was held today, who||2010||2008|
|would you vote for if it was between: [READ AND ROTATE] Steve Geller and|
As the table shows, Geller has gone from a 14-point lead to a 21 point deficit, a net loss of 35 points in two years. How did this happen? First, let’s start with the premise that vote choice is determined by a voter’s “impression of both candidates, realizing that no contested election is done in a vacuum. Our instrument for voters’ impressions is the common favorability rating used in most common political polls. This question determines “name recognition and how positive or negative a voter feels about the challenging candidates.
In table 2, we display the changes in favorability ratings for Sue Gunzburger that have occurred over the last two years.
|Next, how would you rate: Suzanne Gunzburger|
|5=Never Heard of person/Do not recognize name||8||31|
|6=Recognize name but neither favorable nor unfavorable||14||10|
The table clearly shows how Sue’s numbers have overall improved. Her name recognition has jumped from 69% (true name recognition 59%) to 92% (true name recognition 78%), and her total “very favorable responses increased from 17% to 29%. Her total negative responses have increased as well, but compared to Geller’s negatives and the negativity of the two campaigns, they seem relatively low. Now look at Table 3 and see how the campaign has influenced voters’ impression of Steve Geller.
|Next, how would you rate: Steve Geller|
|5=Never Heard of person/Do not recognize name||9||23|
|6=Recognize name but neither favorable nor unfavorable||14||14|
Unlike Gunzburger’s rating, Geller’s positive responses have significantly declined. His “very favorable responses fell 8% to 14%, and, his “mostly favorable rating fell 9% to 24%, a total decline in positive responses of 17%.
While Geller’s positives fell dramatically, his total negatives jumped an amazing 31%, from 8% to 39%!
The only good news for Geller in these numbers is that his name recognition increased from 77% (true name recognition 63%) to 91% (true name recognition 77%).
So how did all this happen? Well the data doesn’t give us that answer, but we have to conclude that the attack ads of Sue Gunzburger resonated far better with voters than the ads produced by Steve Geller.
In addition, Sue Gunzburger deftly used the environment of ethics reform to her benefit. In a political year when being an incumbent should be a negative, she turned it into a positive.
Her railing against lobbyists and even her own colleagues on the commission, accusing them of trying to undermine ethics reform, morphed her from an insider to an outsider being persecuted by special interests.
And Sheriff Al Lamberti’s awkward investigation into Gunzburger’s late husband’s sale of recycled outdoor furniture to the county –she was quickly cleared of any wrongdoing — only contributed to this perception.
Finally, let’s be clear that any survey is snap shot in time and that the real battle begins with the grassroots campaign. Geller does have strong support from unions who will undoubtedly be in force on Election Day. And even though this survey would suggest Steve Geller has a steep hill to climb before the asphalt runs out, anything can still happen. After all, this is Geller versus Gunzburger isn’t it?
From August 14 through August 16, 2010, telephone interviews with 403 registered Broward County Democrats living in County Commission District 6 were conducted. The survey sample was obtained from a list of registered Democratic voters who had a history of voting in one of the last two county primary elections. Respondents were randomly selected from this list and qualified as to residency and that they were currently registered to vote at their current address.
The confidence level for the survey is 95% with a margin of error or +/- 4.9 % (this margin of error varies slightly on each proportional type question depending on the amount of difference between proportions.) This means that in 19 out of 20 surveys of this kind, the results would be within the defined margin of error. In addition to sampling error, other sources of error due to question wording, question order, and other difficulties of in measurement can bias the results of all surveys.
Jim Kane is one of South Florida’s premier pollsters and political strategists, appearing regularly on national television and in the national print media. He currently teaches graduate seminars at the University of Florida in survey research, political behavior, political campaigning and political parties and interest groups. He has written numerous papers on politics for publications such as Political Research Quarterly and won an American Political Science Association Award in 2004 for the best paper in the state and local elections section. Kane was the first Democratic pollster to work for the Republican Party of Florida.