Parsing Poll Numbers



The congressional campaign of former TV newscaster Helena Moreno was crowing last week about a poll by Multi-Quest that showed her making the runoff against Congressman Bill Jefferson and beating him in a head-to-head match-up. Indeed, the poll by veteran pollster Jack Grimm showed her running second in the crowded Democratic primary field in the Second Congressional District and leading Jefferson by a margin of 49 percent to 36 percent in a head-to-head match-up. The poll was completed shortly before Hurricane Gustav — roughly five or six weeks before the Oct. 4 primary.

However, the numbers that were released to the media did not include a racial breakdown of either the primary “horse race” or the head-to-head contest between Moreno and Jefferson. 

Gambit Weekly got a peek at those racial breakdowns, which had Moreno winning 26 percent of the black vote against Jefferson, who is black, in the head-to-head match-up. While no one disputes the accuracy of Grimm’s polls, political veterans know two things about polls: first, they are not crystal balls and therefore hold no “predictive” value whatsoever; and second, any poll that shows a white candidate getting substantial black votes against a well-known black candidate — particularly a black incumbent — should be discounted because black voters historically are loath to “give up the franchise” to a white challenger. That held true for Mayor Ray Nagin against white challenger Mitch Landrieu in the last mayoral election, even though Nagin was not popular among black voters.

Another complicating factor is the fact that the Democratic congressional runoff will be on Nov. 4 — presidential Election Day, when U.S. Sen. Barack Obama tops the Democratic ticket. If Moreno makes the runoff, and if she holds at least a quarter of the overall black vote against Jefferson, she will have accomplished something that no other white candidate for major public office has ever done in New Orleans — and she will have done it on the day that millions of black voters across America go to the polls to cast ballots for the first African-American major party nominee for president. One other statistic that was not revealed when the poll was released to the media: state Sen. Cedric Richmond also defeated Jefferson in a head-to-head match-up. — Clancy DuBos

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