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October 10, 2008

Pollina Upends Symington in New Poll ... or Does He?

Hold on to your hats folks, it looks like Vermont's race for governor is really heating up, and it's not just thanks to Vermont Yankee.

Or, is it?

A long-awaited Rasmussen poll is out and it's a far cry from the WCAX-TV poll taken earlier this fall, but it contains two sets of numbers that may lead some to criticize the poll itself.

Let's cut to the chase. When asked their first choice for governor, Vermonters said:

Gov. Jim Douglas (R): 45%
Anthony Pollina (I): 25%
Gaye Symington (D): 20%

Yep, you read it right. Pollina, the guy with no money, no TV advertising, and plenty of gumption is outpolling the Democrat with the money and plenty of TV advertising. Go figure — an old-fashioned campaign where a candidate meets voters one-on-one.

But, when pressed further about who they would really vote for if push came to shove, Vermonters said:

Douglas: 53%

Symington: 39%

Pollina: 4%

Here's how Rasmussen describes the swing:

In the Vermont Governor’s race, 45% say they’d vote to re-elect Governor Jim Douglas and another 8% are leaning in that direction. So, Douglas could attract anywhere from 45% to 53% of the vote.

Independent candidate Anthony Pollina initially earns 25% of the vote, but only 4% remain certain they’d vote for Pollina if it comes down to a choice between Douglas and Symington.

The Democratic House Speaker Gaye Symington initially comes in third, with just 20% support. However, another 19% say they could end up voting for Symington.

So, what does this all mean? For Pollina's campaign, the first numbers are evidence that their strategy is working.

“I think it reflects what we’re seeing and hearing when we’re walking around the street and it shows the dissatisfaction of Vermonters,” said Meg Brook, Pollina’s campaign manager. “People do hold Democrats and Republicans accountable for the problems in the state.”

Hey, if Sen. George Aiken (R) could run a US Senate campaign on $12, why not a campaign for governor?

Brook was on her way to Manchester for tonight's gubernatorial debate. Glad she didn't drive off the road with the good news.

However, the Symington campaign said the large swing from one set of numbers to another raises questions about the validity of the poll.

Symington's campaign dismissed the poll results as "bizarre" and citing the fact that Rasmussen had to re-poll three times because the first two times they neglected to include Pollina.

"This poll is the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen, it just does not seem like a credible poll given the two different sets of numbers," said Michael Carrese, Symington's spokesman.

A spokesman for the Democratic Governor's Association, which has taken a strong interest in Symington's campaign and is expected to provide more support in coming weeks, also dismisses the poll.

"There is no legitimacy to this poll whatsoever. This is the third time they‘ve had to poll just to get the correct lineup of candidates," said the DGA's Brian Namey. "And for all their efforts, the third time is apparently not the charm."

Namey refused to say why he thinks the poll isn't legit, but I'll hazard a guess: Internal polling shows otherwise. 

I know we've been hard on Pollina's campaign, but at the same time, "Fair Game" was the only news outlet to accurately predict just such a scenario. Actually, we didn't predict it, but we quoted the guy who did — UVM political science prof Garrison Nelson.

Here was our take in "Fair Game" on September 24:

UVM political science professor Garrison Nelson said Pollina could potentially outpoll Symington November 4. That would be a shocker, but it has precedent in Vermont, he notes.

Independent Bernie Sanders did just that to Democrat Paul Poirier in the race for Vermont’s lone House seat in 1988. The winner that year was Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Smith. Democrats chose Sanders over Poirier (who, ironically, bested [then State Senator Peter] Welch in the primary) because he better articulated his leftist positions. Though Sanders came in second, two years later he unseated Smith. The rest, as they say, is history.

The danger for Symington, and the hope for Pollina, is that history will repeat itself.

Funny how history does have a way of repeating itself.

We rang up Nelson this afternoon to get his take on the poll results and let him know of his powers of prognostication.

"This does not surprise me and it appears now as if this could be very similar to '88 where the prog leapfrogs the Democrat and becomes seen as the competitor and the viable challenger," said Nelson.

Nelson added that Pollina's high favorability rankings in the WCAX poll, supplemented by several key union endorsements, have given more people reason to believe he is a credible candidate.

That poll of 400 Vermonters, conducted September 11-14 by Research 2000 for WCAX-TV, found 48 percent of respondents favoring Douglas, 33 percent for  Symington, and 7 percent for  Pollina.

Another key aspect to this poll is that Douglas could remain below 50 percent, notes Nelson. And, if this vote goes to the Legislature it's a crap shoot.

Why? Because lawmakers vote by secret ballot, and that's when Douglas will find out if he's got as many friends on the Democratic side of the aisle as he thinks.

I was polled by Rasmussen last week and they never used Anthony Pollina's name. There was no opportunity to say that one was voting for him. It was an automated poll. Please find out what the questions were before you pass judgment and publish these false results. If Pollina's name was not in the poll, how could he have significant support in Rasmussen?

Last weeks poll was the one they had to redo. This weeks poll included Pollina's name. I was on the receiving end of the poll call. It was also automated, but did include him. the first two tries, they got the polling wrong because in most states they do not include candidates other than D's and R's because they are so trivial. Regardless of whether Anthony is at 8% or 25% his candidacy is not trivial.

I imagine they had to reprogram some of their automated polling to be able to include him.

As for the validity of the results. Of course they will be called into question by those whose numbers went down. And of course they will be highlighted by the Pollina camp. But even if it was off by 5% between Anthony and Gaye, the reality is that people are shifting towards Anthony and away from Gaye (and a little away from Douglas) compared with the CAX poll. So for Douglas and Symington this is not good news. It appears both of their negative campaigns are hurting each other and people are looking for a fresh perspective.

Good old grassroots. If there is anyone who has the network to pull that off, it is Anthony. He has been working for every day Vermonters for over 30 years. Family farmers, people with disabilities, workers, and others all know that he is there with them in politics and in heart. They are coming out.

I was at the debate in Manchester tonight. Saw Syminton's camp arrive. Talk about glum. I think they take the numbers seriously. Douglas was unfazed though. Not to worry.

This is good news!

I was a little bit disheartened back between September 11-14 when I saw the numbers then, but I realized that Douglas needs over 50% to win. In a Legislature where the majority are not Republicans who knows what could happen. I have heard some folks say they'd like to vote for Pollina if he could win, but this is a state where Bernie Sanders can win. People should know that anything is possible.

I am a somewhat disturbed that poll numbers that do not include Anthony as a choice would be released at all and what's problem anyway there seemed to be no such problem in September? And they should have enough experience dealing with Bernie after all. These kind of hiccups in this campaign make one wonder what's going on here and how fair things are really?

Now with Bernie and with James Jeffords becoming Independent in his last term as Senator we as Vermonters should be comfortable with an alternative to the Republicans and Democrats. And Vermont is not alone. Not long ago we saw Joe Lieberman win as an Independent in Connecticut and there is Jesse Ventura who became Governor of Minnesota as an Independent.

The Jesse Ventura story seems particularly significant as I believe his campaign hadn't gone far until poll numbers came out showing him at 15% and with that people apparently took him as a serious and viable candidate and things came alive enabling him to win in the end. So a poll showing Anthony at 25% could have the effect of Galvanizing supporters and waking up those who thought there was no chance. I hope this leads voters to look at and investigate Pollina's platform and look at the differences and consider him.

Now it seems that the Legislature may not support Douglas if he does not receive over 50%. Some may feel that any other choice should be within say 4% or so of him in the final vote, but if Pollina and Symingtom together gain more total votes that would seem enough justification to me to choose an alternative, but then who is considered by the Legislature the best choice if Pollina beats out Symington.

With the debates I've watched I found myself wondering how viable Symington is? Oh, she is certainly giving it a valiant effort and I applaud her for it, but she seems over matched and overwhelmed. At times I feel sorry for her and root for her to do better as she muddles through stumbling over what she wants to say. As far as I can tell though the main benefit of her candidacy is in bringing Douglas' numbers down, so I hope she sticks it out.

I now find myself wondering how these polls would look if Speaker Gaye Symington were to be left out of the poll and folks could only choose between Governor Jim Douglas and Anthony Pollina?

why this poll is junk (4.00 / 2)
This is Michael Carrese of the Symington campaign. On its website, Rasmussen is reporting the results of the poll as 53-39-4 which is how the rest of the world will see it. Here in VT, it's being played differently because of some unfortunate timing. Rasmussen put up the 45-25-20 number first in its "for premium members only" section on the home page. You could see those numbers, but nothing else. It was an hour later (roughly) that they posted the 53-39-4 set with some explanation of the methodology. So if you first learned of the poll this afternoon, your impression is WOW everything has changed. If you first saw the Rasmussen site in the early evening, your reaction was probably - well, things haven't changed too much since the WCAX poll except that Symington & Douglas are up a bit, and Pollina is down a bit.

There was no question asked about a head to head with Symington and Douglas.

I'm obviously troubled that the other set of numbers (45-25-20) is getting so much attention when (1) it doesn't include leaners (2) we don't know what the question was - just that it was some kind of question about "preference"

I just don't think this poll has validity. In every political poll I've ever seen when you add leaners, everyone's numbers usually go up. Pollina's number drops 21 points. It's simply not credible.

But if you want to suspend disbelief and attach some credibility to this poll (and again, I don't), you'd have to side with the set of numbers that pushed people to make a commitment.

Some relevant info on Rasmussen: the Associated Press will not report on Rasmussen polls as a rule because the methodology is suspect. Just a few months ago, they had to retract a poll in the Louisiana U.S. Senate race because their results were totally off base. They admitted "human error" and didn't poll again in that race.

It just would not be right for the perception of this race to change based on a poll with so little credibility.

Are you saying "premium members" only get the wrong information? I went to their site and the numbers you list are part of some question about if it is whether the race is between Douglas and Symington. The race is between Douglas, Symington and Pollina. The 45, 25,20 numbers are right and all your explanations won't change that.

Independent candidate Anthony Pollina initially earns 25% of the vote, but only 4% remain certain they’d vote for Pollina if it comes down to a choice between Douglas and Symington.

What? If it comes down to a choice between Douglas and Symington? What does that mean? Pollina's not a choice? It's amazing he has 4% if he's not even a chioce in that scenario. Am I missing something here or is everybody else?

Sorry Michael-

Spin is spin whether it is from the R camp or the D camp. The results of the question about who folks would vote for were very clear, 45 Douglas, 25 Pollina, 20 Symington.

I have tremendous respect for Speaker Symington. She is very smart and has worked very hard.

However, these numbers reflect what many have come to realize. The job of Governor is about a number of things. One of which is articulating the policy and direction that government should going. If one can not do that, then "the other side" of the policy arguments will win issue after issue and we will all be set back.

It has been clear in the debates that Anthony Pollina has presented the issues, and Douglas's failure on those issues, far better than any other candidate. My experience in speaking with many D's, R's, I's and P's every week at the farmers market is this opinion is held by many across the political spectrum. It is an unscientific weekly survey, but the momentum has been clear.

Many hard core D's that I know have been more impressed with Anthony as the debates go on. That is one reason that Douglas and Symington have been cancelling debates left and right.

The debates, along with the endorsements makes these numbers less surprising.

As I said before, even if they are not perfectly accurate (no poll is remember), it does clearly show that Douglas is drifting down, and Anthony is shooting up. The momentum is on Pollina's side.

This is a very funny quote to come from David Zuckerman, "Spin is spin whether it is from the R camp or the D camp."
He wants us to believe that the R's and D's use "spin", but the Progs are too righteous for that.
Then he “spins" the story in a favorable light to his candidate!!
Give us a break, David. Spin this story how you want, but don't pretend that you aren't doing exactly that!!
Anyone who is 20 points behind 3 weeks before Election Day isn't doing well, by any stretch. Don’t try to spin it some other way.

Let's break it down this way. Obviously, Douglas can be linked to the horrible policies of George Bush, which also links him to the horrible policies of John McCain and Sarah Palin. After 3 terms as Governor of VT, Jim Douglas has done nothing to help Vermonters and in fact he has nothing in Vermont, except make us worse off. Our roads are crumbling, we have no energy policy in the long run, and we are losing jobs.

So this leaves us with two options, Gaye Symington or Anthony Pollina. Gaye Symington has tons of legislative experience and shows she can be a leader. The Reps respect her so much she was Speaker of the House. She has a plan for education, a plan for our energy policy, and plans to jump start our economy.

Anthony Pollina has never held elected office. He has only run for governor or Lt. Governor, yet has absolutely no experience in government. He has leadership experience as the Co-Founder of the Vermont Milk Company, which was facing financial problems under his leadership.

Vermont needs change. We need someone who has the experience necessary to change Vermont and put it in the right direction. We need someone who has legislative experience. We need someone who is respected by our elected officials in order to get the change we need. And in this election we may need to look forward and elect a progressive democrat who has experience and a policy background. That candidate is Gaye Symington.

...So this leaves us with two options...

Not really, there's also Sam Young and the guy I'm voting for Tony O'Connor.

Good lord, Haik. I thought Douglas did it for you? Are you coming or going?

Symington's support is really weak. Labor gave up on her. They said "we're tired of being ingored". I'm tired of being ingnore, too. She can't complete a sentence. We a governor who has a vision and can express it to us. She walked hand in hand with the governor on the two vote scheme on school budgets. That's the worst bill ever. She bitched about his stimulus package, which was fine except for the fact the Dems had no plan whatsoever. Don't get mad when someone presents a plan. Have a plan yourself! Then she helped weaken Act 250 all in the name of building "affordable" housing. A 267k home in Windsor County is not affordable. Whose side is she on? She really needs to find something different to do. At this point she's a spoiler. Why won't she withdraw? It's extremely tiring to hear Democrats, Bernie and Welch included, on the national level and Democrats on the state level saying we can't do anything until we have a new president/governor. Then take the rest of the term off and forego your pay for chrissakes. We're sick of floating you.

Good lord, Haik. I thought Douglas did it for you? Are you coming or going?

Hello my petulant, pseudonymous friend.

I do like Douglas, but I've never voted for him. Racine, Clavelle, Clarke and this year O'Connor. I said so in the comments of this post.

I'll bet you ten dollars Symington gets more votes than Pollina. If I lose, I'll charge the debt to my progressive state-run credit card.

"What's in your wallet?"


My point was not that we do not all work to make our points as best we can. But the reality of that poll was this. It showed Anthony Pollina with far more momentum and Symington falling fast. We all know that if Douglas is below 50% then it is up to the general assembly. More and more people are aware that they can vote for either Anthony or Gaye and it will go to the Legislature. That means they can decide who they want to be Governor and can vote for them, without the whole spoiler mentality.

Everyone reading this knows people who are wanting Douglas to go and are wondering how to make that happen. The reality is that if you (or your friends) do not vote for Douglas...then you are voting to move him on to the private sector.

Of course...this is only true if the Democrats have more backbone than they had 6 years ago. And I think they will. In talking with various Democratic legislators, there is no longer the "top vote getter wins" mantra happening.

Also, the circumstances are different. So that mantra is understandably not being chanted. Gov. Douglas has had 6 years. If the incumbent office holder has more than 50% vote that they no longer want him then it is perfectly justifiable for the legislature to put in someone else.

As the voters keep swinging towards Anthony the gap will only grow smaller between him and Douglas. Obviously Douglas and Symington will keep running more ads. Many will attack each other. Some will be self promoting (finally). But the attack ads will continue to drive votes towards Anthony.

Finally, I did get polled. The first question was who would you vote for? So that is pretty clear? The hub-bub should really be about the secondary results which are far more questionable. They asked follow up questions that were not complete. It was along the lines of if your candidate were not in the race who would you vote for (or something like that)? But that is not a realistic scenario...the first question is.

Your initial point was to imply that the Progs DON'T spin and the Dems and Reps DO.
Then you suggested that Douglas and Symington will "attack each other" and be "self promoting" -- as if the Anthony Pollina isn’t engaging in these games EVERY SINGLE DAY. And that's the problem with the Progs. They pretend to be above it all, righteous, incapable of the traditional political gamesmanship. All the while, they attack, promote themselves, waffle, and play silly political games.
Spin, spin, spin away Mr. Zuckerman. But don't pretend that you are doing anything other than that.

I think Douglas is the real winner in this poll. The Dems have been banking on the plan that, should Symington come in second, the legislature can elect her, assuming the Pollina voters would have voted for her in a two-way with Douglas. Yet, here we have a poll that (sort of) takes Pollina out of the equation and Douglas still wins.

The legislature could still elect Symington, of course, but not with any legitimacy.

That's my take, anyway.


I was writing about Ads and so far what I wrote was completely accurate. I did not say that Anthony was not going to campaign or try to promote himself or challenge the others. But he is not using the Gaye financial stuff in ads like Douglas and he is not creating mushroom clouds about Douglas. He is challenging them with honest differences of opinion, not the fear stuff that everyone seems to go to. Is he perfect. No, last I checked no one is. point out that anyone who is 20 points behind three weeks out "isn't doing well". Be careful with your choice of words. That means that anyone 25 points behind is doing even worse. What I pointed out was momentum.

There are many many voters on the fence between Anthony and Gaye. What I was trying to point out was that the momentum seems to be on his side whether the poll is perfectly accurate or not. He went up quite a bit and she went down quite a bit. No matter if it was off 5% or even 10% (which I doubt), he is still climbing. That bodes better for him. I do not think that is spin...that is pretty common thinking among most political observers.

Ultimately, going up 17 points in about a month is pretty darn impressive. If he were to do that again (and were Douglas to go down 3 more) then the spread between them would be 42% to 42%. Now, I am not saying that is going to happen. Your challenge of three weeks (when it was four when the poll came out) being very little time is accurate...but who is to say that the same momentum would not continue and help close the gap to 5% or so?

None of us know. But the idea that using the follow up question which implied the third candidate were not in the race, as the more valid piece of data over the more direct question of who would you vote for certainly seems a bit odd to me.

Thank you-

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