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ElectionsCampaign TrailWhat the latest mayoral poll really shows

What the latest mayoral poll really shows

Farrell says he's leading; the numbers are not so clear.


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The Farrell campaign has released a new poll this week that has the former supe (and briefly, mayor) two points ahead of Breed, and winning a simulated RCV race. The campaign only made public one summary page of the poll, so we don’t know the full details. It shows Farrell with 23 percent of first-place votes, Breed with 21, Lurie with 20 and Peskin with 17.

This is a poll of 500 “likely November voters” conducted by phone and “text-to-web” survey.

The margin of error is 4.5 percent.

Farrell claims the lead, but it’s not by much—if it’s a lead at all. Photo from his campaign.

Here’s what “margin of error” means: Farrell has the first-place votes of somewhere between 18.5 and 27.5 percent of the voters. Breed: 16.5 to 25.5. Lurie: 15.5 to 24.5. Peskin: 12.5 to 21.5.

That’s if the sample is good, and since we don’t have the cross-tabs to see the ages and other data on those surveyed, it’s hard to say for sure.

But you could read this poll to say:

Peskin 21.5, Farrell, 18.5, Breed 16.5, Lurie, 15.5. Or you could read it as Breed 25.5, Farrell, 18.5 … and so on.

My take: This shows a statistical dead heat among four top candidates, with Ahsha Safai barely registering.

Same goes for the RCV simulation: With this close a race, and this margin of error, it doesn’t tell us much.

What it does show, consistent with every other poll I’ve seen, is that the voters are unhappy with the direction of the city, with only 16 percent saying the city is going in the right direction. The mayor is deeply unpopular.

That’s good for challengers, but they have to demonstrate how their policies are different than the incumbent’s. So far, Farrell and Daniel Lurie haven’t done that.

As the race goes on, and the three on the right try to get more leverage, they may well start attacking each other (they will certainly go after Breed, which started at Wednesday’s debate), which might impact the ranked-choice voting picture. And Breed will absolutely go after Farrell and Lurie; again, she started at the debate.

In an RCV strategy, you generally want to avoid attacking people whose second-place votes you need. If Breed, Lurie, and Farrell do negative campaigning against each other, Peskin may seem like a better second-choice to some of those voters.

Oh, by the way, Lurie is now claiming he “dominated” the debate. From a campaign press release:

 Tonight, Daniel Lurie dominated the first mayoral debate. Elections are generally won when candidates contrast themselves with their opponents, and Lurie defined the race in stark terms. 

“We cannot continue to turn to the same people and expect different outcomes,” said Daniel Lurie, a longtime non-profit executive, father of two, and lifelong Democrat. 

What the debate really showed was that on policy issues, Breed, Lurie, and Farrell are all proposing the same things. That’s not a good way to “contrast” yourself with the other candidates—and the polling shows Lurie has yet to fine a political message that puts him ahead of the other conservatives.

Full disclosure: My son and daughter both work for the Peskin for Mayor campaign.

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Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.


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