Blair’s Bad Poll

David Blair recently trumpeted poll results produced by his campaign that claim he trails incumbent County Executive Marc Elrich by only a single point. They oddly left Hans Riemer out of the graphic in the blast email and press release, which present Elrich at 29%, Blair at 28% with 23% undecided. The poll was conducted by a highly reputable pollster.

Councilmember Hans Riemer’s campaign has repurposed this poll that has him in third place with 20%. They claim the poll shows Elrich falling but discount the better numbers for Blair because it came from his campaign. Their graphic excludes Blair just like Blair’s leaves out Riemer.

Except that the poll really show Blair’s weakness.

The poll was taken only after voters were primed with a bunch of messaging questions. Voters were asked questions related to Blair’s endorsement by the Washington Post and the Sierra Club combined with standard messaging. Blair’s campaign also asked negative questions about Elrich and Riemer’s longevity in office combined with a positive spin for Blair.

Priming can have large effects on poll outcomes. Beyond heavily skewing the information presented to voters, people like to please and are more likely to give an answer if they think it will make the interviewer happy. Yet even after all this priming designed to drive Blair’s numbers up and Elrich and Riemer’s down, Blair still trailed Elrich.

This message-testing poll suggests a few conclusions quite opposite from those presented by Blair as well as Riemer to a lesser extent.

First, Elrich almost certainly has a lead and quite possibly a strong one. If the Blair campaign had polling results that were at all good for him without priming questions, they would show them to us and even share the details.

These results instead suggest that Blair’s campaign is stalling despite his millions in spending. Blair’s omnipresence on television may not matter much when fewer people see the advertisements because they stream or scroll past commercials on their DVR. I have literally seen one Blair ad while streaming a YouTube video.

Second, Riemer is running uncomfortably well from the Blair campaign’s perspective. Just as the poll depresses Elrich’s numbers, it does the same to Riemer. Dropping Riemer from their graphic was hardly accidental. Blair is trying to convince people that it is a two-person race with Riemer faring poorly.

This is the logical purpose of the poll as no campaign is message testing at this late date. Campaigns have already settled on their plan and focused on execution. Other recent polls suggest that Blair and Riemer are statistically tied. My view is that Riemer has been running the best campaign of the three candidates, which would help explain why he hasn’t fallen behind Blair despite expectations and Blair’s very large wallet.

It doesn’t hurt that there are hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenditures funded by California donors on Riemer’s behalf separate from the campaign. (UPDATE: This is an anti-Elrich group that helps both Riemer and Blair.) Unlike four years ago, Riemer is the only councilmember challenging Elrich. Of course, Riemer’s campaign can’t have it both ways—the numbers understate Elrich’s support as well as his own.

Rather than convincing me that Blair is coming on strong and positioned well in the final weeks, this poll confirms his weakness.