AN EXCLUSIVE USAPOLL BY JAMES G. KANE
State Senator Steve Geller, who is termed limited this year, has recently announced his intention to challenge fellow Democrat County Commissioner Suzanne Gunzberger for her District 6 Commission seat and has already opened up a campaign account. Challenging a fellow Democrat is highly unusual in Broward unless that Democrat is politically wounded (like Ilene Lieberman’s 1996 challenge of long-time Commissioner Jerry Thompson).
Certainly that is not the case with Suzanne Gunzberger On the other hand, she hasn’t faced any serious challenge for the seat since she won against Don Samuels in 1992, when the race was countywide. At least on the surface, she would appear to be a formidable candidate to unseat.
But Steve Geller is no ordinary challenger. A former state legislator and now a state senator, Steve Geller is one the most politically powerful and influential Democrats in state government. His name has appeared in both the local and state-wide media on almost a weekly basis. In contrast to Sue Gunzberger, however, Steve has had his share of criticism from the press for lobbying for clients before local governments. This issue will undoubtedly find its way into the campaign as we get nearer to the primary.
We thought that for our first survey it would be fun to look at the Geller versus Gunzburger race to see if either candidate has, at this early date at least, any advantages going into the race. So we conducted a poll of 401 likely Democratic primary voters in this district (see Methodology below) to find out.
THE HORSE RACE
In Chart 1 (click to enlarge all charts), we find that Steve Geller has a healthy lead over Sue Gunzberger if the election were held today. His 14-point lead is somewhat surprising since Sue has spent the past 16 years on the County Commission, eight of which was representing this district. And that doesn’t include her time on the Hollywood City Commission.
As political pollsters know, early trial ballot numbers are often based on name recognition, and, incumbents usually have far more of it. That shouldn’t be the case in this race, where both candidates should be fairly well-known with likely voters. This is assumption is confirmed as shown in Charts 2 and 3, were both candidates have significant name recognition with likely voters.
Only 23% have never heard of Geller and nearly 31% have no clue who Sue Gunzberger is. (Most pollsters would also include the “Never heard of/Can’t rate percentage in the total; Consequently, Geller would have a “true name recognition of 64% while Gunzberger’s “true name recognition is around 58%.) Since Geller has a lead of 14 points in the trial ballot question, name recognition differences can’t be the sole reason for his superior numbers.
Looking at the same two Charts again, we can see that Geller also has an advantage in the “very favorable category of about six percent. In addition, cross tabular analysis reveals that Geller retains 73% of his “very favorable voters, while Gunzberger only holds on to 52% of hers (statistically significant at the <.001 level). What this means is that while both candidates have very high favorable numbers, Geller’s favorables are far more intense.
Geller and Gunzburger
A lot of media attention over the past several months has focused on rising property taxes. But recent cut backs in funding public education have drawn some increasing criticism, especially among Democrats. In Chart 4, we display what Democratic voters in this district consider the most important issue facing the County today.
Public education receives a plurality of voters’ concerns, but is closely followed by the economy and jobs and property taxes. Statistically speaking, all three issues are at the top of the list. As noted above, increasing media stories about cuts in public education has had some effect on voters’ choice for what’s important to Broward County. This is somewhat in conflict with voters’ concerns over rising property taxes. This paradox demonstrates what public officials will face over the next few years: cries for increased funding for public services while calling for lower taxes. How all this sorts itself out, only time will tell. Perhaps an improved economy and decreasing home values will mitigate concerns over taxes.
THE UNFRIENDLY SKIES
Finally, the expansion of Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport’s south runway has dominated much of the County Commission’s discussions over the past two years. Sue Gunzberger, whose District 6 includes parts of Hollywood closest to the airport, has been a stalwart opponent to the expansion. Countywide surveys we have conducted over the past two years have shown that most voters support the expansion, but then most of them do not live on the airport’s borders.
Since this has been a major issue for Sue Gunzberger, we asked voters in her district if they thought the expansion was either a good or a bad idea. As we show in Chart 5, about 45% of likely voters in the District say the expansion is either a very good idea or a good idea, as opposed to approximately 22% who tell us that it is either a bad or very bad idea.
Interestingly, 32% don’t know or are not sure.
Being opposed to an issue can sometimes carry more emotional weight for a voter than for those who support it. Take gun control for example. Survey after survey has shown that overwhelming majorities support some form of gun control. But the NRA has consistently mobilized its base to defeat most gun control measures. Why? Because their membership is far more emotionally attached to the issue, and, consequently, more likely to contact their state legislator to express their opposition and ultimately vote on this single issue alone.
If this is the case on the airport runway expansion, we should find voters opposed to it far more likely to support Sue Gunzberger. Looking at Table 1 we don’t find that to be the case. In fact, Geller actually expands his lead among those voters who find the runway expansion a “very bad idea (statistically significant at <.001 level). In other words, Sue Gunzberger’s opposition to the runway expansion has not helped her at all, at least not against a candidate like Steve Geller.
Just a caveat about this survey and analysis: it should be understood that campaigns do matter. That variable is certainly missing here and we must remember that if this match-up ever occurs it will be two years from now. In politics, this is more than several lifetimes from now. Steve Geller must also contend with an eroding name recognition that could eat into his current popularity.
What it does show, however, is that Steve Geller goes into this race with a comfortable lead against a popular incumbent. It is also demonstrates that issues that seemingly would help a candidate can ultimately have little impact on an election. This is a case where the squeaky wheel gets more oil than it deserves.
From July 16 through July 17, 2008, telephone interviews with 401 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 (Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office). 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.
All comparisons and measures of association between variables (or subgroups) meet our test for statistical significance, which, for the purpose of this report, will be .05 or less, unless otherwise noted.
The word significance has a very special and consistent meaning when used in this report. It does not by itself mean the relationship noted is important. If two or more variables are statistically significant, it simply means the variables (subgroups) are quite likely to be actually related to one another in the population under study. Thus significance is required in order to make statistical inferences about the population, based on the sample.
Although error levels increase inversely with the size of subgroups, tests for significance always take this into consideration. Reliance on any differences displayed by comparisons without statistical significance would be dependent solely on faith and not sound statistical proof.