For Whom the Bell Polls -- Should political coverage be poll-driven? That's a question that gets raised every year in newsrooms around the country -- just before the editors commission another poll. The practice dominates presidential politics, but there are good reasons not to let it. For starters, polls are not always that reliable. They can provide good anecdotal evidence, but not fact. Readers, however, may not always make that distinction.
Which brings us to our own political scene, and the recent primary vote. The Spokesman-Review's Sept. 9 poll pegged Mayor John Powers in the lead, followed by Jim West and Tom Grant. The S-R did say the race was still a toss-up, and we're supposed to know polls are only a snapshot of the day they are taken, but when the dust settled, their numbers were off -- way off. Take West: The poll pegged him at 20 percent, but he wound up with 31 percent -- beating the margin of error by six points.
The question is, do polls influence voters? We heard from one voter who said she supported Powers, but thinking his advancement was certain, she voted for West to keep Tom Grant or Steve Corker out of the general. Maybe they'll run a poll to see if that was a widespread practice. The lesson is: Don't believe everything you read, and vote for the person you support.
And for the record, the Review poll placed support for dumping the strong mayor system at 43 percent (with 10 percent undecided) -- "too close to call." Of course it wasn't close at all, as only 34 percent wound up supporting it.
Careful What You Wish For -- If it's true that the city employees' union was upset with Mayor John Powers, and that was part of the reason it funded the strong mayor system signature-gathering effort, the employees may have triggered an unintended consequence. While Jim West has said all the right things about contract negotiations, as a Republican he may be even tougher on the unions than Powers was. And as a state budget writer, West is no stranger to keeping budgets tight in the form of salary freezes or even cutbacks.
Bad Samaritan -- When a guy is down, you have some options: help him up, offer some kinds words or pile-drive your elbow into his back. In his column just after the election, S-R bad boy Doug Clark chose the latter, in kicking defeated John Powers when he was down. (OK, it was more like rubbing chocolate-covered strawberries in his face -- "Take that for having a new idea in this town!")
This isn't to say columnists should play nice -- hey, we know it's their edge that gets people to read them. But the next time the S-R Ed Board wonders why citizens are so cynical -- or when the top brass wonders why circulation is weak -- they might want to take a look in the mirror.
Publication date: 09/25/03