Monday, September 12, 2016

A San Diego polling firm has been testing anti-Recall Condon attacks

Posted By on Mon, Sep 12, 2016 at 3:00 PM

click to enlarge A San Diego polling firm has been testing anti-Recall Condon attacks
Surveyors from Competitive Edge Research and Communications were calling Spokane residents this weekend, testing out arguments against recalling Mayor David Condon

Tuesday, the Recall Condon effort could very easily be tossed by a Superior Court judge, like so many of them are. But, if the phone calls several Spokane residents got this weekend are any indication, a consulting company out of California has already been paid to suss out the effectiveness of arguments against recalling Mayor David Condon. 

In a text message sent to the Inlander today, Condon confirmed that he had commissioned the poll. 

Inlander Culture Editor Mike Bookey was among the Spokane residents who received phone calls from Competitive Edge Research & Communication, a San Diego-based polling firm. 

Bookey cautions that his recollection of the poll is not verbatim. However, his account is backed up by another source who contacted the Inlander last night and gave an essentially identical account of the survey.

The Competitive Edge surveyor asked basic demographic information, including whether Bookey lived north or south of I-90. He asked which party Bookey typically voted for and whether he considered himself moderate, conservative or liberal. 

Other questions were more specific to Spokane: Bookey was asked whether he got his news mostly from the Inlander, Spokesman-Review or TV — and could only choose one. The surveyor asked him whether hiring a new police chief, fixing roads or cutting taxes was the most important to him. He asked how closely Bookey followed city government. The surveyor asked whether he voted for Condon or Shar Lichty in last year's election and whether he had a positive or negative view of Condon.

And he was asked whether he would vote to recall Condon. 

Then the surveyor asked a series of questions asking if Bookey would be less likely to support a recall if he knew of an argument against the recall. That Condon broke no laws? That City Council President Ben Stuckart would become mayor if Condon were recalled? 

(In fact, while Stuckart would automatically become acting mayor in the event of a recall, the city council then has to choose who they appoint to be mayor. It could be Stuckart, but it doesn't have to be.)

Another question, Bookey says, contrasted Condon with the allegations swirling around Mayor Jim West's when he was recalled.

The surveyor did not mention the report of the independent investigator Kris Cappel that concluded that members of Condon administration had withheld documents until after November's election. Similarly, it did not poll any other arguments in favor of the recall. 

In a text message, Condon, who is serving as the campaign manager of the "Choose Spokane" political action committee opposing the recall, confirmed that he had commissioned the poll. Currently, the Public Disclosure Commission website does not list any expenditures for Choose Spokane.

Sometimes surveys like these have been derided as "push polls," intended to change opinions more than advertising them. It's an accusation that Competitive Edge is familiar with. So familiar, in fact, that they address the issue in the FAQ on its website:


No. A push poll is a deceptive political campaign tactic designed to change the respondent’s opinion, not measure it. Competitive Edge does not conduct push polls and has been active in helping to call attention to the problem. As a member of the American Association of Political Consultants our organization condemns the use of push polls.


You are referring to questions which are designed to test whether messages are persuasive. Message testing is a legitimate goal of political and market research. We try to do everything in our power to make it as painless as possible.
But that's not to say the accusation hasn't been made before. Here's a 2007 story from a San Diego paper about a controversial poll showing support for a Solano Beach development. 
Mayor Lesa Heebner, however, said that the survey commissioned by developer Greg Shannon was designed to influence and not gauge public sentiment.

Pollster John Nienstedt, president of San Diego-based Competitive Edge Research & Communication, said he was not conducting a “push poll,” but was testing the effectiveness of different messages and how residents felt about the development.

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About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, Daniel Walters is the Inlander's senior investigative reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...