Friday, May 25, 2018

Who Watches the Number Crunchers?

Vigilant readers may recall my April 29, 2018 article entitled “Observations and Omissions.”

The second point of that piece dealt with a telephone survey that was fielded back in mid-April of 2018.  The question summaries I scribbled down while answering the interviewer’s queries can be found below.  As you will see, there is a decided focus on candidates and issues of particular interest for Howard County’s Fourth Council District.

So, I thought I would look through the recent campaign finance filings, to see who might have been the wallet behind the study.  It was conducted with (at least one) live human interviewer (who wasn’t that good, but I have heard worse), the instrument seemed to have been at least reviewed, if not drafted, by a market research professional, they had access to a telephone sample, and the results must have been processed and analyzed.  In short, at minimum, direct costs would have run at least a few thousand dollars…if they ran the survey on the cheap while still using professionals at various points in the process.

Since I haven’t seen any media reporting on this survey, we can discount any news organizations as the sponsor.  There was no County Executive Ballot Test, so I doubt it was a County-wide campaign that was digging around doing some CC4 subsample work.  A third party organization, such as group of developer interests or another professional association…possibly but 1) I don’t think they would field a survey like this until after the Primary and 2) I believe they would have hired a more professional outfit to conduct the survey.  It is possible that a party organization could have fielded this survey (but again, why those questions and why before the Primary Election?) and I believe that they would have hired a more serious polling firm to gather the data.

There was definitely a bit of a DIY feel to that mid-April research effort. 

I think it was a candidate campaign or a group with a close affiliation to one of the candidates running in CC4.  And they would need some money/resources to field it.  I don’t know why Lisa Kim would field the survey I outlined below (note “Lisa Kim” was not even tested).  And IBMK doesn’t have the resources.  That leaves Deb Jung or Janet Siddiqui or some person or entity close to one of them as the sponsor.  And I am certain that Jung hasn’t fielded a poll, so really, it comes down to Siddiqui or a Siddiqui-affiliated entity as the likely survey funder.

Remember how I said that I didn’t know if the telephone interviewer said they were with “SSI” (a national survey research firm best known for providing telephone sample to pollsters) or “SSSI” (which stands for Scientific Systems and Software International, a firm with Nayab Siddiqui…the husband of Janet Siddiqui…as an executive officer)?  Well, looking at the most recent Siddiqui campaign finance report’s in-kind contributions, there are three listed for Scientific Systems and Software International…all on 3/14/2018.  Adding them together, they amount to $755.  These contributions occurred approximately a month before the survey was fielded.  All three of these contributions were for “advertising,”  I think one of those was for the now infamous ad in the River Hill Villager where the Siddiqui campaign neglected to add the authority line.  I don’t see anything else in their report that connected to a survey or any other line items mentioning Scientific Systems and Software International. 

So we find ourselves back at the original questions: 1) who fielded the survey?  2) shouldn’t this survey have appeared on someone’s campaign finance report? 3) if yes to point two, was it just buried somewhere odd or was it omitted…accidentally or intentionally?

It is possible that whoever fielded this poll had a decent phone sample in their possession, had a volunteer or volunteers conducting the interviews (bad form by the way, and it would have taken…at minimum… a couple hundred labor hours for data collection alone, even with a ridiculously small sample size in the N=150 range), and had the ability to run an analysis using a statistical software package.  In short, theoretically, it could have been done without formal expenditures or as something that should be labeled as an in-kind contribution, but frankly, I doubt it.

Sometimes, polls are rolled up as part of a consultant fee…but again, I am not seeing anything that stands out as a line-item that might also include survey research costs.

So, in the interest of transparency, will the survey sponsor please identify themselves and explain why the survey can’t be found in the campaign finance report?

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

The survey questions:

Favorability on a 0 - 100 scale:
1. Larry Hogan
2. HoCo Fire Dept.
3. HoCo Teachers
4. Real estate developers
5. Ho Co Police Dept
6. Calvin Ball
7. Ho Co Board of Education
8. Mary Kay Sigaty
9. Deb Jung
10. Ho Co Conservancy
11. Allan Kittleman
12. Janet Siddiqui
13. Ian Bradley Muller Knudsen
14. Jim Rouse

15. CC 4 Ballot Test: Deb Jung vs. Others

16. Co Council Priorities

17. School Quality

18. Schools in Neighborhood

19. Better/Worse Schools in HoCo

20. #1 Priority (promote equity, teacher pay, etc...)

21. Sanctuary
22. Development of Downtown Columbia and Village Centers
23. More restaurants and entertainment
24. Public transportation /easing traffic
25. Balancing budget/w/o reducing services
26. Developers fair share–
27. More jobs
28. Preventing over-development
29. HoCo schools best in state

Downtown Columbia
30. Development or more dining options
31. Develop or too much as-is

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

WBAL Democratic Gubernatorial Debate

It is Two-for-Tuesday!

Initial thoughts:

First, the 60-minute debate should have been 90-minutes.  Given the size of the field, the 60-minute session felt truncated and, at times, rushed.  The order of events went as follows:

-       90-second introductory statements from the eight in-studio candidates (all but Jaffe, who taped a segment outside of the studio)
-       One-minute responses to questions on:
o   Education
o   Economic matters (I believe they skipped over Jones on this series)
o   Crime
o   Transportation
o   Divided Government
o   Gerrymandering (only three candidates were able to respond before the cut the questioning short)
-       Then the 5-minute Jaffe package with an introduction and his replies to four questions
-       No closing statements
-       So yes, no direct lines of questioning for the rest of the field on health care (Jaffe did receive one in his segment), immigration, various social justice issues, campaign finance, gun control, energy, or environmental questions…although some of the candidates were able to articulate their perspectives on such matters over the course of their introductions and/or responses to the six aforementioned “one-minute” topics.

Second, I think it would be challenging to score this debate using the old Winners/Losers framework.  Quite frankly, I believe every Democratic candidate (with the exception of Mr. Jones and Mr. Jaffe) showed that they possess the mettle to get up on the stage and deliver satchels of pain to Governor Hogan in a general election debate.  Mr. Jones seems like a nice guy and the mere fact that he didn’t collapse under the pressure of TV cameras and a state-wide audience should be viewed as a victory for Team Jones.  That said, both he and Mr. Jaffe are destined to be one-percenters when the story of the Democratic primary is written.

Third, I am going to talk about communications because how a candidate conveys their ideas is important.  And it is what I do.  And, in this case, in no particular order:

Ben Jealous.  He fumbled in his introduction, having to pause and gather his thoughts for what felt like a long time (although in absolute terms, it was probably a couple of seconds). I believe he also stumbled a bit on the Education question but he pulled himself together and delivered fluid responses for the rest of the forum.  His policy prescriptions on the Divided Government question (“tax the 1%, one percent more”) was deftly-delivered and memorable. A bit like former UK Labour Leader Neil Kinnock as a communicator, Jealous is capable of high highs…but the lows, ouch.  How would be match up against Hogan in a debate?  Might depend on the kind of day he is having.

Rushern Baker.  Look, I believe there are only two candidates in the field capable of breaking 35% in the primary (and if one does, the other will not), Baker is one of them.  From a technical perspective, he was one of the more polished performers on the stage. He has done some serious media training work, and it shows.  Not Admiral Excitement, but competent on every question.  I kept flashing back to Governor Dukakis.  No stand-out moments, warm oatmeal through-and-through. 

Krish Vignarajah.  I know this is a well-concealed fact, but I am indeed a Vignarajah supporter.  So let me declare that up front.  Her presence on the stage reinforced my belief that she would be the ideal Democratic standard-bearer – smart, tough, and the ability to deliver a compelling message that voters can understand.  OK, she did speak quickly on the Education question as she was attempting to present a multi-part Education program within 60-seconds, which is no easy feat. I think she nailed the Crime question where she discussed the role of race in the “War on Drugs” and the need for a holistic solution set to crime challenges.  Her “innovation economy” reply on the Economy question was also solid, connecting on the need for an economy that meets the needs of now as well as the future.

Alec Ross.  I enjoyed Jon Lovitz’s character, the Master Thespian, as much as anyone.  But Ross just seemed a little over-the-top.  I don’t doubt the sincerity of his beliefs, but from a communications perspective, his up-and-down, loud-and-soft vocalizations and prominent hand gestures were distracting.  Frankly, there was more than a little Clinton (both Bill and Hillary) in his style…and I don’t believe it suited him well.

Valerie Ervin.  In some ways, she had the toughest job on that stage.  Still grieving the loss of her running mate, Kevin Kamenetz, she has been in the field as a candidate for Governor for only a few days.  I will be honest, and this is where it’s important to remember that this is hardball, so please bear with me…I think her opening statement was a bit of a lost opportunity for her.  Yes, she needed to talk about Kamenetz. It was altogether fitting and proper for her to do so.  But…she needs to play catch up…and she could have spent another 10 or 15 seconds of her introduction talking about herself and what she brings to the table for the people of Maryland instead of spending as much time talking about the tragic loss of Mr. Kamenetz.  Again, she must be going through it right now, between that and the ballot issue, so I won’t be overly critical.  She did her best and she did OK.  Frankly, her “Lavender Line” bit on transportation was one of the better responses from that debate.

Jim Shea.  He stood upright for 60 minutes.  He didn’t embarrass himself.  Given his background, I would have expected stronger, more memorable responses on the Education and Economy questions.  No breakthrough moments, he probably wishes he could have done the forum with Brandon Scott at his side, chiming in from time-to-time.

Rich Madaleno.  Captain Wonk of the Wonk Patrol.  If this was a true debate and not a forum, he probably would have had a few more stand-out moments.  In terms of IQ points, probably rates near the top of the Democratic field…but the smartest guy doesn’t always win (See: 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, 2000 U.S. Presidential Election, etc…).  I still don’t know if he can pull together a constituency outside of Montgomery County. Would he match up well against Hogan in the General?  Perhaps…but I still maintain that Vignarajah would be the strongest possible Democratic nominee based on her background, knowledge, and issue focus.  

What else?  Well the debate moderators were, as a group, adequate. There was one moment where a male questioner framed a question for the two women running for Governor.  It felt like he was about to begin addressing them, “And now for the ladies…” in a sexist, wince-inducing kind of way.  Did anyone else get that vibe?  I’m not saying the individual to whom I am referring is necessarily sexist but the way he set up his question for both Vignarajah and Ervin was…odd.

Anyway, north of 1,100 words.  Time to wrap it up. 

In solidarity.