Our last poll before the election, published Oct. 25, in the Star, showed a very tight race. That by itself set this poll apart from everything else that had been released up to that point. While incumbent Bart Peterson held a lead, it was slim and vulnerable. His approval rating was just barely 50%, which is low for an incumbent. It was lower among independent voters.
Independent voters may have given Ballard the edge. They are typically less likely to show up on Election Day than the party loyalists, and Ballard led this group by six percentage points.
Another theory to explain Ballard's victory is that fewer African-American turned out on Election Day than early polls may have estimated. They favored Peterson by more than 7-to-1 margin, according to our poll, so if that group turned out to be less than is proportionate to their presence in Marion County, that would affect the outcome as well . . .
Our poll did not show Ballard winning, but we did see his rise. His victory was certainly foreseeable based on our data. And it was the only public poll showing this to be a close race.
You may recall the poll's controversy ignited after the Star initially released results showing a dead heat race with Peterson leading Ballard only 41%-39%. Soon after those numbers first appeared at the Star's online website, they were altered to show a Peterson lead of 43%-39%. The Star added a disclaimer explaining that the results had been revised to more closely reflect voter turnout based on the 2004 election. Selzer explains the pressure her firm came under at the time:
There were pressures in the marketplace that, had we given in, would have shown Peterson much farther ahead. I'm glad we held our ground in the face of some nasty commentary. The readers of the Star and the viewers of WTHR were well served by having early notice of an unexpectedly tight race. What we delivered was our best work to reveal the truth of political intentions in Marion County.
With all due respect to Ms. Selzer, I must disagree with her contention she didn't give in to marketplace pressures. The altering of the poll results after its initial release reveals to this writer her firm and the Star did indeed give into pressure from the Peterson campaign. The fact that the poll results were altered and done so in such a public manner cast doubt about the validity of her poll, a fact seized upon by the Peterson campaign and others within the media. As a consequence, the Selzer poll got dismissed by many as completely unreliable. It's little comfort that her poll results were closer than other opinion polls. As I recall, there was only one other poll later in the campaign, a WISH-TV poll, which showed Peterson hanging near the 50% mark with many expressing disapproval of his policies.
This whole ordeal leads one to wonder how often pollsters fudge their numbers to satisfy a marketplace pressure. The fact Selzer acknowledges such forces exist is enough to give one pause. And contrary to her claims today, we know her firm gave into such pressure last month after it initially released the poll she now boasts got it more right than anyone else. One of my biggest fears about polls is how they often become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Too often they are used to convince us a certain political race isn't close at all so we shouldn't even bother to come out and vote. I know for a fact that some local Republican leaders cited the WISH-TV poll as evidence Ballard couldn't win and the party should instead focus on the council races. Personally, I read that same poll a completely opposite way because it showed such a high degree of dissatisfaction with the city's direction and weak support for the mayor. I now must question whether the WISH-TV pollster inflated Peterson's margin to match some anticipated voter turnout scenario. It makes you wonder.