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Published May 19 2012

Forum polls have often hit their mark

FARGO – Reading poll results is a lot like tuning in midway through a boxing match. You can see who is winning and who is taking a beating, but you also know a few big blows could change the fight’s outcome in a heartbeat.

Forum Communications released a series of statewide polls last week on North Dakota’s upcoming U.S. House and Senate races and ballot measures on the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname and a proposed constitutional amendment to abolish property taxes.

Only time will reveal the accuracy of the polls, which were conducted by Essman/Research, an independent research firm in Des Moines, Iowa.

In the meantime, we’ve taken a look at how Forum polls have fared in the past, dating back to 2000. All of these past polls were conducted by the Public Affairs Institute at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

2008 presidential race

Four weeks before the 2008 presidential election, a Forum poll of 608 likely North Dakota voters found then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama leading Arizona Sen. John McCain, 45 percent to 43 percent.

But the slim lead was within the statistical margin of error, indicating the race was a dead heat.

Obama won the presidential election, but he lost North Dakota to McCain, 53 percent to 45 percent.

Outcome predicted: No

2008 statewide races

The same poll showed then-Gov. John Hoeven and U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy heading toward re-election with huge leads over their challengers.

Outcome predicted: Yes

2006 Fargo sales taxes

Fargo voters decided on two sales taxes on June 13, 2006: a one-cent, 20-year tax to improve the city’s infrastructure and a half-cent tax to reduce property taxes within the Fargo School District.

Both proposed extending existing sales taxes, and both needed 60 percent approval to pass.

A Forum/WDAY-TV telephone poll of 570 likely voters conducted two weeks before the vote showed the infrastructure tax had support from 60.1 percent of voters, while the half-cent tax had support from 47 percent.

An earlier poll in April predicted the same result.

The infrastructure tax ultimately passed with 69 percent approval, while the half-cent tax failed, receiving 51 percent approval.

Outcome predicted: Yes

2006 mayoral race

The same 2006 poll also predicted Dennis Walaker’s victory in the race to fill the shoes of Fargo Mayor Bruce Furness, who didn’t seek re-election.

Walaker’s share of support among likely voters was 33 percent, giving him the lead in a field with six candidates. He won the seat with 34 percent of the vote, followed by then-City Commissioner John Cosgriff with 26 percent.

Outcome predicted: Yes

2005 Fargo arena tax

Few sales tax proposals in recent years have generated as much controversy as a 2005 effort to extend the Fargodome’s half-cent sales tax to pay for the proposed Renaissance Center, a downtown arena and events center.

In a telephone poll of 555 likely Fargo voters about three weeks before the May 3 election, nearly 60 percent opposed the tax extension, which needed 60 percent support to pass.

Voter rejection turned out to be even stronger, with 71 percent rejecting the sales tax.

Outcome predicted: Yes

2004 elections

Two weeks before the Nov. 2, 2004, general election, a poll of 623 likely North Dakota voters Oct. 18-20 focused on several national and statewide races and a ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage.

2004 smoking ban

A telephone survey of 502 likely voters in Fargo and West Fargo in October 2004 gauged support for three versions of an indoor workplace smoking ban.

Of those participating, 42 percent wanted to see smoking outlawed in all public buildings, compared with 33 percent who wanted to exempt bars from a smoking ban.

However, there was some ambiguity in the poll: 7 percent of respondents said they favored a smoking ban in restaurants and bars only, which wasn’t a ballot option. Fifteen percent said they wanted to continue allowing smoking in bars and restaurants – a group that could vote no on all the ordinances.

In the end, two versions of the ban received more than 50 percent support in both cities, but the vote total for the ban exempting bars was higher, so that version won out.

Outcome predicted: No

2004 library sales tax

A poll of 433 likely voters in Fargo conducted about two weeks before the Nov. 2 election found that 61.8 percent supported a half-cent city sales tax to fund a new downtown library and new south and north branches.

The tax needed 60 percent approval to pass, and it received 62 percent.

Outcome predicted: Yes

2002 statewide lottery

A statewide poll of 606 North Dakotans in September 2002 showed about 73 percent supported a constitutional amendment directing the state Legislature to join a multistate lottery such as Powerball.

That November, voters approved the measure, 63 percent to 37 percent.

Outcome predicted: Yes

2000 statewide races

A Forum/WDAY-TV poll of 626 likely North Dakota voters conducted Oct. 23-25, 2000, asked respondents about several statewide contests.

E John Hoeven, the GOP candidate for governor, held a slim lead over Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, 48.9 percent to 46 percent, but it was within the statistical margin of error and therefore considered a dead heat.

Hoeven won the race, 55 percent to 45 percent.

Outcome predicted: Yes

2000 presidential race

A statewide poll of 600 likely North Dakota voters during the first week of October 2000 found GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush leading Al Gore by about 12 percentage points in the state.

Bush easily beat Gore in North Dakota, winning 61 percent of the vote, and eventually went on to take the White House.

Outcome predicted: Yes

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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