by Ted S. McGregor Jr.
Finding out what people really are thinking can be liberating -- and a little frightening. After six weeks of hearing the same handful of pundits, elected officials and angry citizens, the staffs of KXLY and The Inlander decided it was time to hear what the city as a whole thought about Jim West. So we no longer have to speculate on what his actual level of support is -- according to this poll, he still has about 30 percent of the people behind him.
But polling can also tell you things that make you worry -- like the fact that 13 percent of the citizens of Spokane say they were not aware of the accusations against they mayor prior to getting a call from our pollsters. Yikes!
To do the job the right way, we hired Strategic Research Associates, a Spokane-based independent polling firm affiliated with the KXLY Broadcast Group. SRA Director Steven Dean says his firm took special care to make sure the sample was not only large enough (600 City of Spokane residents) to offer a low margin of error (+/-- 4 percent), but that it was also constructed to mirror Spokane. The sample was engineered to reflect the actual breakdown of citizens by age, gender, location within the city and political persuasion. Throughout this section, you'll hear comments from a handful of the 600 people who were randomly selected to be polled by SRA.
Dean says that waiting for the dust to settle on the controversy has likely made this poll more accurate than any sampling taken just a few days after the story broke.
"People have had a chance to consume some the of the information about the controversy. It's not a shock any more," Dean says. "Because we waited, it allowed the mayor to respond, so there's been time for these charges to be evaluated."
Dean says that when you dig a little deeper into the numbers, some interesting trends emerge. We asked people to identify how religious they view themselves. Since homosexuality has been framed by some as a religious issue, we wanted to see if there was a big correlation between those who are most religious and those who want West to resign. Dean says that no significant connection emerged: "This seems to be more of a leader issue than an issue regarding homosexuality," Dean says.
And Dean says even though West's strongest support remains among Republicans and those who voted for him as mayor, even there his support has eroded. For example, 60 percent of Republicans said their opinion of West has become less favorable than it was two months ago.
Overall, says Dean, if a candidate for public office pulled these numbers, he'd have to say it wasn't looking good.
"These numbers really say that the mayor's support is not very strong," says Dean, "and he is kind of running for office right now."