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New Governor's Survey Tests Possible Attacks on York and Whitehouse: Will Campaign Come Down to Craig Price versus Jennifer Rivera? (posted July 7, 2002)
A new public opinion survey that is being conducted this weekend tests a series of negative attacks on Democratic gubernatorial candidates Sheldon Whitehouse and Myrth York to see which ones resonate the most with primary voters. The poll starts with questions seeking to gauge the respondent's likelihood of voting in this year's Democratic primary and asks about the direction of Rhode Island, and how favorable the respondent feels about Whitehouse, York, and the third challenger in that race, Tony Pires.
The survey follows with questions asking whether respondents favor Whitehouse, York, or Pires in the vote for the Democratic nomination, and how they rate the job performance of Attorney-General Sheldon Whitehouse. There are a series of questions asking which candidate would do the best job on the following issues: improving education, protecting the middle class, promoting health care, protecting the environment, fighting crime, fighting corruption, lowering prescription drug costs for seniors, and promoting jobs and the economy.
The survey asks which of the three Democratic candidates will win the primary, is a strong leader, has the most energy, is running a negative campaign, will do the most for working families, will shake up and change the system, and has the most experience.
However, the most revealing part of the survey tests six possible negative attacks to be directed against York in the primary. The poll asked whether any of the following things would make the person less likely to vote for York: that she voted against teachers having to disclose prior convictions, that she opposed economic developments projects such as the new terminal at Green Airport and tax breaks for American Power Conversion, that she voted for needle exchange programs for drug addicts, that she was one of the legislators to vote against a bill that would have kept murderer Craig Price in jail, that she voted for proposals that would have cost millions in new taxes, and that she was a legislator who voted against extending prison terms for murderers.
Following these anti-York statements, the poll then asked the candidate preference question a second time to determine whether respondents preferred Whitehouse, York, or Pires in the Democratic primary. By asking the candidate preference question a second time, it allows the campaign to compare how vote preferences shift after having heard a series of attacks on York.
After this item, the survey tested four anti-Whitehouse messages to see if particular charges would make the person less likely to vote for him. Among the items tested were that while Attorney-General, he plea bargained 90 percent of his cases which resulted in shorter prison sentences for criminals, that he failed to protect Jennifer Rivera from being shot, that he was an ineffective manager of the Attorney-General's office because his office budget grew and his percentage of cases that resulted in a conviction dropped compared to his predecessor, and that he refused to appoint a special prosecutor in the Cornell Young, Jr. shooting case.
There was no third candidate preference question that would gauge how voting preferences shifted following the presentation of these anti-Whitehouse attacks. There also were no questions gauging possible attacks on Pires, the third candidate in the race.
This survey shows the gubernatorial campaign is about to enter a negative phase. With the Democratic primary about two months away on Sept. 10, whoever sponsored this survey appears to be looking to see which of several lines of attack on York will be most effective with Democratic primary voters. Many of the attacks center on allegations that York is soft on crime and sympathetic to murderers and convicted criminals. In many respects, this line of attack is similar to the George Bush strategy against Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential campaign.
However, nearly all the anti-York themes tested come from her service in the General Assembly, which ended eight years ago in 1994. Few of the attacks deal with contemporary York stances or issues such as education and health care which are important to voters. Crime generally is not a very important issue in Rhode Island gubernatorial campaigns, so it is not clear that these attacks will be effective in moving voters to her opponents or that people will blame her for Craig Price.
Copyright 2000Karen Martin Media Services