The Taubman Center’s recent poll is probably the ultimate kick-off of horse race coverage of the 2014 campaign for governor. In a somewhat regular occurrence for Director Marion Orr, the poll’s methodology was called out almost immediately. WPRI’s Ted Nesi has an interview with Orr explaining the methodology; here on RI Future our editor Bob Plain has a quick list comparing the actual results of elections versus Taubman’s predictions.
Polling is great for horse race coverage, and shoddy polling is politically dangerous. A year out, with the primary candidates for governor as yet undeclared, we don’t care much for talking about the issues the next governor will face; even though recent history suggests the decisions made in this next year will likely have great impacts on the next administration. Thus the polling provides a simple narrative for who has the “advantage” going into the actual race.
That narrative is something to be cautious about, especially in Rhode Island. What the media is saying is not necessarily what is happening. Sometimes, unfortunately, media outlets can fall too much in love with the narrative they’ve created. 2012 should remain a sobering moment; the narrative (based largely on polling) was that Rep. David Cicilline was in for one of the closest races of his political career. On the eve of the election, WPRI showed Cicilline with a 1-point lead over challenger Brendan Doherty. A month before, both the Taubman Center and WPRI had Cicilline with a 5- or 6-point lead. Cicilline went on to win by an unexpected 12.2% margin.
The Taubman Center’s polling also shows where the narrative is going. Included is a question comparing a 4-way race between Gina Raimondo, Angel Taveras, Allan Fung, and Ken Block. The operating theory is that Raimondo will choose to skip the Democratic primary, run as an independent and Chafee her way to victory. But here’s the thing; she’s already told NBC 10’s Jim Taricani that she won’t run for governor as an independent. Why does this narrative persist? Because people want it to.
In the meantime, there are strong questions to be asked. For instance, how does the next governor fix the state’s economy? Can they, considering the office’s major policy-making ability is as a leader in budget creation and through the bully pulpit? For the Democrats, we have to ask ourselves what the General Assembly does if the governor is no longer a useful foil to play off of? How do the candidates view the office they’re running for? There are social issues that are going to come up during the next term; will gubernatorial candidates protect the recent advances, or will they roll back progress? What are their educational policies?
David Preston has a great review of the usefulness of polling, and how to watching a political campaign without using numbers that are either unreliable or meant to manipulate.