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Latest Seattle council poll is (mostly) true, but deeply flawed

The Seattle City Council chambers. (Seattle City Council, Flickr)

The Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE) released a new poll Monday, detailing general displeasure among voters related to Seattle City Council. And while that’s been true in past years, a closer look at the poll reveals some questionable methods.

CASE — the political arm of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce — published a series of questions asked of people living in five of seven council districts up for grabs in November: Districts 1, 3, 4, 6, and 7.

Contacting roughly 250 respondents in each district over the phone, they conducted the poll between Oct. 17 and Oct. 24.

Your guide to every Seattle City Council race

CASE’s questions dealt largely in how people feel the current council is doing. To that end, it honed in on these three queries:

  • Would you say you are following what’s going on in the Seattle City Council elections very closely, somewhat closely, only now and then, or not that much at all?
  • Do you feel things in Seattle are generally going in the right direction, or do you feel things have gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track?
  • Please tell me if you have a strongly favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable or strongly unfavorable opinion of the Seattle City Council.

Most answers painted a negative picture of the council’s performance, indicating that public opinion has worsened since CASE last conducted a similar poll in September. That was consistent across each district polled, but it should also raise a few red flags.

First: The poll was conducted just days after Amazon announced it was contributing over $1 million to CASE in an effort to bring change to Seattle City Council. That led to a news cycle that had many Seattle progressives crying foul over corporate money in the city’s elections, and CASE’s own role in supporting Amazon’s political agenda. And sure, the timing could be entirely coincidental, but nothing cleans up a tough news cycle like dunking on a traditionally unpopular Seattle council.

Seattle officials push back against Amazon’s $1.5M election donation

Second, the margin of error for CASE’s poll was a sizable +6.2, thanks in large part to the small sample size of voters.

It’s also notable that while the poll indicates a decrease in the council’s popularity between its two polls, voters contacted in September were different than the ones selected for this latest October poll (both groups were randomly selected from a pool of registered voters deemed likely to participate in November’s election). So while there was technically a worsening of public opinion between the two polls, there’s no way of knowing how the latest group felt a month ago, two months ago, or ever.

Third, the poll completely skips over Districts 2 and 5. When asked about the omission, CASE Marketing and Communications President Alicia Teel stated that they “have some D2 data on the way,” but made no mention of when that would be. As of publishing, ballots are due in five days.

She also didn’t say whether we’d ever see data from District 5, where CASE is not-so-coincidentally endorsing current councilmember Debora Juarez.

“That alone is telling, and suggests that CASE might no longer think those are competitive races worth investing in,” noted SCC Insight’s Kevin Schofield. In District 2, CASE-endorsed candidate Mark Solomon took just 23.2 percent of votes in the primaries, while challenger Tammy Morales was just shy of hitting the 50 percent threshold.

And finally, Teel admitted that CASE actually included an unspecified quantity of other questions in its poll, but that she would not be sharing them at this time. Instead, all the public gets to see are three questions that produced a very specific narrative: That incumbents not named Debora Juarez are deeply unpopular, a message strengthened by leaving Juarez out of the poll altogether.

Admittedly, that narrative has generally proven true in recent years. But it’s worth remembering: Some polls are simply designed to present information. Others — like this one — though, are carefully molded to push a political agenda.

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