Thursday, December 01, 2005

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: POLL DANCING

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Dec. 1, 2005


That Richardson. His suits don’t fit, but his latest poll numbers ought to make him feel pretty comfortable.

In fact, a statewide tracking poll shows Gov. Bill Richardson with a 63 percent approval rating, a full 10 points higher than his approval number just four months ago.

The poll was conducted between Nov. 11 and 13 by a New Jersey firm called SurveyUSA and paid for by KOB TV in Albuquerque. It is based on automated phone calls to 600 New Mexican adults. The margin of error is 3.9 percent.

Participants were asked “Do you approve or disapprove of the job Bill Richardson is doing as Governor?” Only 34 percent said they disapproved.

The gap between his approval and disapproval numbers also is widening. “Richardson has gone from Plus 13 in June to Plus 29 in November, which is singularly impressive,” said Jay Levy, an editor with SurveyUSA.

According to the poll, which tracks numbers for governors in all 50 states, Richardson is now the 13th most popular governor in the nation. That’s up from July when he was merely the 20th most popular governor.

Suiting Up: So what’s happened since July to help Richardson’s approval numbers?

There was the trip to North Korea in October, allowing Richardson to wear his diplomat suit.

There was his quick and widely praised appointment of Doug Brown — a Republican — to fill out the term of indicted state Treasurer Robert Vigil, allowing Richardson to wear his bi-partisan suit.

Then there were the energy-rebate checks — sent to virtually every taxpayer in the state — allowing Richardson to wear his Santa Claus suit.

And there were television commercials airing all over the state in early November with actors posing as cowboys touting those energy-rebate checks (and poking some good-natured fun at the governor’s suits.)

New Mexico pollster Brian Sanderoff said the ads — which weren’t countered by any GOP commercials — could be a factor in the better poll numbers.

Greg Graves, who is managing the gubernatorial campaign of Republican J.R. Damron of Santa Fe, said Wednesday he believes the commercials are a major reason for Richardson’s improving numbers.

One problem with this theory though. According to SurveyUSA, Richardson’s numbers rose most between September and October, before the commercials were aired.

Automated calls: About a month ago Sanderoff conducted a poll for The Albuquerque Journal that included a question about Richardson. He found Richardson’s approval rating at 53 percent.

Sanderoff on Tuesday pointed to the fact that SurveyUSA’s poll uses an automated system.

He said that people who aren’t interested in state politics or who don’t have an opinion on Richardson — not to mention those among us who get angry when we get calls at home from automated androids — are more likely to hang up on such a call than they are when there’s a live human on the other end of the line.

Therefore, Sanderoff said, the percentage of “undecideds” is going to be much lower in automated polls, while the percentage for approval and disapproval tend to rise. In the new poll a measly three percent were undecided.

But even with this factor, Sanderoff noted that the overall trend in Richardson’s SurveyUSA polls is upward.

Graves said he’s not daunted by Richardson’s high numbers.

“He’s got a record he’s going to run on and he’s got a record we’re going to run on,” he said.

Richardson, Graves said, “is going to be under more scrutiny and more of his foibles are going to be reported. You’ll see how quickly 10 points can be made up.”

No Joy in Mudville: The poll was taken before the story broke about Richardson admitting that he indeed was not drafted by the Kansas City Athletics in the mid ‘60s as he’d previously claimed.

The national response to that story has not been pretty.

Bob Warner of Cincinnati Enquirer wrote.

“Richardson has had hopes of making it to the big show — as a Democratic presidential nominee. Maybe someday he will have to research how he didn't get that call either.”

But Richardson has at least one defender. Local gallery owner and activist Steve Fox took time out of his recent crusade against the sweetener aspartame to write a letter to the online edition of Editor and Publisher.

There Fox called the baseball story “a dismal and failed attempt at character assassination.”

“How about the other party's leaders' protracted and elaborate lies about Iraq's ‘weapons of mass destruction,’” Fox asked.

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