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Matt Von Pinnon, Published May 19 2012

Von Pinnon: Forum stands behind poll to gauge voter sentiment

Last week, Forum Communications Co., parent company of The Forum, rolled out over four days the results of a North Dakota political poll focusing on two weighty state measures and two hotly contested candidate races.

Our aim was to give our audience some idea of how voters felt about these matters roughly a month before what many expect to be a record-turnout primary election on June 12.

After much research, the company hired a reputable polling firm from Des Moines, Iowa, to survey 500 likely voters May 3-8. The poll had a margin of error of 4.3 percent.

We worked with the polling firm, and they with us, to make sure the poll was fair and objective, as well as informative.

The poll provided the first glimpses into voter sentiment for Measure 2 (whether to ban property taxes in the state), Measure 4 (whether to retire the Fighting Sioux nickname), and the races for U.S. Senate and U.S. House.

Because our polls for North Dakota’s federal candidate races were the first commissioned and released by an independent source, those results generated big news among political observers and news outlets far beyond North Dakota.

It’s not uncommon for candidates to publicly release internal poll results if it shows them doing better than their competitors but, because one must always consider the source, independently done polls are widely viewed as most credible.

Still, two campaigns for candidates or parties that didn’t show well in our poll were quick to discredit it.

Both Democrats already selected to run in November’s general election argued that because we only sought voters who planned to cast a ballot in the June 12 primary, we couldn’t use those same respondents to gauge sentiment for general election scenarios.

Their theory is that because Republicans have two contested federal primary races and Democrats have none, more Republicans are likely to vote June 12, thus skewing the political profile of poll respondents.

This isn’t a bad theory, except for a few details:

North Dakota’s June 12 primary is shaping up to be similar to a nonpresidential general election. It includes four statewide nonpartisan measures – two or three of which have major interest – county elections, city, school and park board elections, and local measures.

For these reasons, election officials are bracing for a record primary turnout – similar, in fact, to a general election.

So when the polling firm surveyed 500 North Dakotans who planned to vote in the upcoming election, is it not reasonable to think their answers might mirror those of the general electorate?

We asked about four federal general election scenarios because people want to know where those races sit six months out. If we hadn’t asked about them, people would have wondered why we hadn’t.

To try to discredit the process or methodology of the poll is within anyone’s rights.

But we’re confident the poll was conducted fairly and independently.

We stand behind it.

Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum. Reach him at (701) 241-5579.

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