SIR Poll Correctly Predicts Frontrunner in Cincinnati Mayoral Primary

They say the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day. Well, at least that’s what the candidates who trail in pre-election polling say.

We survey researchers have a bit of a different take. Pre-election polling can tell us a lot about the dynamics of a race going into Election Day. But we also have to take stock of how well our numbers line up with “the only poll that matters.”

In the Cincinnati mayoral primary election, the numbers are in, so it’s accounting time at Strategic Insights Research. How did our independent poll do at predicting the outcome of the mayoral election and the controversial proposed charter amendment known as Issue 3?

In short, we did very well.

First, our poll predicted that Issue 3 would be defeated. More than one in three voters (35.2%) surveyed opposed the measure, while barely one-quarter (26.7%) expressed support. A plurality of voters (38%) was undecided on the issue with less than a month to go before the election, and many of them were just looking for more information. As that information flooded out in the final weeks of the campaign, voters broke overwhelmingly against the amendment. Final tallies from the vote show that all–yes, ALL–of the undecided voters in the SIR poll ended up opposing the measure. Issue 3 earned just 26.99% favorable vote on Election Day.

The SIR poll’s performance in the mayoral election was likewise accurate, nearly perfectly so. Here are the major highlights from our post-election audit:

  1. We correctly predicted that Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval would pull out the number one spot on Election Day. He led with voters in our poll that expressed a preference, garnering 24% of the decided vote weeks before Election Day.
  2. Councilman David Mann finished second on Election Day, which was a statistical possibility in our poll. We had him in third place behind Independent Herman Najoli but well within the margin of error for the poll. We will expand below on why we believe he was a contender and ultimately garnered enough votes to make the general.
  3. With one exception, which we will expand upon below, our poll correctly predicted the final order of the vote tally.

When we do a poll, we try to get behind the curtain. We want to know not just the numbers, but the “why” behind the numbers. So, we can ask the following question and provide a reasonable explanation: Why did Councilman David Mann make the runoff?

The simple answer is corruption. Corruption has wreaked havoc on Queen City politics for the past couple of years, with the majority of the City Council facing federal prison time, federal charges, or state charges related to official misconduct. Corruption was the number three issue voters expressed as being the most important problem facing Cincinnati at the time of the poll. And of those voters who were most concerned about corruption, Mann was their preferred candidate. You might say Mann was their man. And for good reason: He has a distinguished career in politics without a even a whiff of corruption around him.

The problem for Mann at the time the poll was conducted was that all of the corruption-concerned voters had made up their mind; there was no room for him to make any headway on that issue. Then, as luck would have it (good luck for Mann, bad luck for us making predictions, and even worse luck for Councilman Wendell Young), three days after our poll concluded, Mann’s colleague on the Council, Wendell Young, was indicted on charges stemming from a three-year old corruption incident. Young’s indictment thrust corruption, once again, into the spotlight of City politics. We at SIR have no doubt that Young’s indictment and the renewed focus on corruption likely pushed some undecided voters to consider corruption an important issue and shift their votes to Mann.

Of course, as we noted above, Mann was well within striking distance in our poll. And strike he did.

That brings us to our ordering. As noted above, we accurately, but not perfectly, predicted the order of the final vote tally. The candidate we had out of order was Independent Herman Najoli; we had him finishing second, although, as noted above, within the margin of error for Mann to overtake him. Najoli ended up finishing dead last on Election Day. We were skeptical that he was performing as well as our poll showed for one simple reason: He’s an Independent. Independent candidates tend to do very poorly on Election Day, even in non-partisan elections like the Cincinnati mayoral election, simply because they do not have the weight of a party apparatus behind them for critical activities like voter mobilization. They tend to overperform in pre-election polls and underperform on Election Day. That seems to be the case with Dr. Najoli.

In sum, the Strategic Insights Research poll performed well. We accurately, but not perfectly, predicted the outcome of the mayoral primary and the outcome of the Issue 3 vote.

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See media coverage of this survey below:

PX column: How do Cincinnati voters view all the City Hall corruption? ‘Whoop-de-doo’

In Cincinnati, turmoil and term limits will bring unprecedented change to City Hall