Pollster Finds Embattled Governor Leads by 13 and Trails by 17 – in the Same Poll

A robo-pollster tries a fresh and strange experiment with scandal questions.
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Yesterday, the robo-pollster SurveyUSA released a crop of fantastic numbers for Oregon's Democrats. Senator Jeff Merkley, a first-termer who won a very close 2008 race, led his once-touted Republican opponent by 21 points. Ballot Measure 91, which would legalize marijuana in the state, was up by 11 points. And Governor John Kitzhaber, seeking a fourth term, appeared to have weathered the Danielle Steele-worthy scandals that had ensnared his fiancé Cynthia Hayes, everything from a secret green card marriage to her consulting work for a company that lobbied he governor. Kitzhaber's lead over Dennis Richardson, a state representative widely viewed as too right-wing to compete, had actually grown from 12 to 13 points since the scandals emerged.

"Oregon voters seem to-date unfazed by the developments," offered SurveyUSA, "and remain poised to re-elect the Governor to a 4th term"

Not much later, Oregon's KXL reported on a poll that showed Kitzhaber in a total state of collapse.

Even Dennis Richardson himself is surprised by the new numbers “It was just amazing to see that kind of a flip,” Richardson told KXL. “People finally have figured it out, that with cover-ups, waste, investigations, sweetheart deals, and pay-for-play they finally decided that’s not going to work for Oregon’s future.”

Kitzhaber, who was up 13-points before a steady dose of negative press is now down 17-points. With 18% of those polled saying they have shifted allegiances, and were once voting for the governor but are now voting for Richardson.

The pollster that brought this funereal news to the Democrats? SurveyUSA. In the same poll, for the same network (KATU) that got the Kitzhaber lead, SurveyUSA conducted an experiment. Voters paying "close attention" to the Hayes story, roughly four of every five who were polled, were asked a follow-up question: After drinking in the Hayes scandal, were they still going to back their candidate? Thirty-eight percent of these voters backed Kitzhaber again, 37 percent backed Richardson, 18 percent switched from Kitzhaber to Richardson, and a curious sub-sample that I will assume consist of Cynthia Hayes's immediate family members had switched from Richardson to Kitzhaber.

SurveyUSA's public explanation (I've asked some more questions, and will post any answers) was that "this may or may not directly overlap the universe of Oregon’s likely voters in 2014," and "what voters say and what voters do may be two very different things."

That's true. In the meantime, the pollster has managed to crush Republican hopes of capitalizing on a scandal and to generate panicked stories in Oregon media about how the governor's race just saw a 30-point turnaround.