CAN MARK SIDRAN ride light rail all the way to the mayor's office?
For the past four months, the city attorney has been front and center on Sound Transit, blasting his opponents, Mayor Paul Schell and King County Council member Greg Nickels, for their support of the agency's floundering light-rail line. Last week it appeared Sidran's hammer had met its target, as a new KING 5 poll showed the city attorney pulling ahead of the mayor with 24 percent of the primary vote.
"Clearly, the momentum is in our favor," Sidran consultant Michael Grossman says. "The message is resonating with voters—they understand there's going to be a clear choice for them, particularly about Sound Transit and transportation, in the city of Seattle."
It didn't take long for the Schell and Nickels camps to start spinning the numbers: Nickels by pointing out that he was still leading the race with 25 percent, and Schell by noting blandly that "I am in a statistical tie with Mr. Nickels and Mr. Sidran." Schell's consultant, Blair Butterworth, says he's encouraged by the fact that the mayor's numbers have remained constant at about 21 percent despite Sidran's intense negative campaign. "Our supporters have gone through more than Joan of Arc," Butterworth says. "We've always had a sense of where our vote is and how big it is."
But while Nickels himself was sanguine on the poll results, his campaign pollster, Dan McDonough, blasted KING 5's methodology. The station used automated software to call a random selection of 500 Seattle-area numbers, a method McDonough says "doesn't follow statistical methodology" because the calls aren't made by a qualified pollster, and because anyone—"even an 11-year-old child"—can pick up the phone and answer the recorded questions. "I've said to our campaign, even when it was favorable to Greg, you can't take these [numbers] seriously." He says the poll's prominent placement on the front page of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, coming just five days after the paper endorsed Sidran for mayor, was "an editorial decision, not a news poll." Butterworth also challenges the poll's validity, noting that, apart from Christmas week, the last week of August is the worst week of the year to do a poll because "everybody is vacationing. . . . You get more people who stay at home, and less active, younger families." If Butterworth is right, that could help explain Sidran's sudden surge, since the city attorney polls highest among those over 55—the most likely group, incidentally, to show up at low-turnout elections like the mayoral primary.
And then again, maybe people really, really hate Sound Transit. "Whenever someone gets a polling result they don't like, they challenge the credibility of the poll," Sidran consultant Grossman says. "I didn't hear our two opponents questioning the methodology 12 days ago," when Sidran was in fourth place, he says.
Erica C. Barnett