During the 6th district debate yesterday evening, candidate Jeff Vanke was looking to convince the crowd that he could beat Bob Goodlatte in the race for U.S. House of Representatives. After all, it is a simple fact that a good number of people will not vote for a candidate that they know will lose, a trend often referred to as the wasted vote. To prove his electablity, he presented the audience with poll results that showed Vanke in a virtual even election with Goodlatte. In this poll, Goodlatte garnered 46% of the vote, Vanke 42%, and Bain 4%. According to the data, he had about 1,000 random respondents spread across 14 cities and counties in the 6th district. Sounds promising for Vanke huh? The problem with the poll however, as Vanke freely admits, is that it is a push poll.
Although I have discussed push polls earlier on this blog, I feel I should refresh your memory. The primary purpose of push polls are to highlight negative attributes of one candidate either to determine what sort of attacks will be successful against that candidate or to create a strong negative reaction in the minds of voters. Given their wording, push polls are not a useful tool for determining the outcome of an election as voters are not similarly “pushed” by the generally straightforward nature of the ballot. For the record, Vanke’s poll reads as follows:
There’s no Democrat in this race, but there is a choice. Independent Jeff Vanke has drafted a balanced Federal budget, and he’s running for Congress because no one there has done it. Eighteen-year incumbent Bob Goodlatte has taken more than $1 million in agribusiness political donations, and he has charged each of us over $2000 in extra taxes to pay for agribusiness subsidies. Independent Jeff Vanke thinks we can do better.
If the election were held today, who would you vote for? For Independent Jeff Vanke, press 1. For the incumbent, Republican Bob Goodlatte, press 2. For Libertarian Stuart Bain, press 3…
Of course if you demean one candidate and elevate another right before you ask for whom a person will vote, obviously the answer will be skewed in favor of the second candidate. To use a common (and unsubstantiated) example, what if I told you that Barack Obama was not a U.S. citizen? Would you be more likely to vote for Barack Obama or a Republican candidate? Obviously the results would favor the Republican to far greater extent than they would if the respondent had not been told of Obama’s supposed nationality.
Now, I hope you don’t think I’m being overly hostile toward Mr. Vanke. After all, I believe it takes considerable courage to run for office and I applaud Mr. Vanke for being a very active participant in our election process. He’s also right in one important respect. I strongly believe that we need a balanced budget and we need one now. It is horribly unfair for the present generation to saddle future generations with past debt.
So, back to the question of the day, will Vanke get 42% of the vote next week as his poll suggests? Don’t count on it. The last time two independent candidates challenged Goodlatte, combined they only captured about 24% of the vote. Here’s where I’d jokingly make a ridiculous wager against Vanke getting anywhere close to 42% but, given Representative Goodlatte’s efforts to curb internet gambling and my ignorance regarding these laws, I’ll refrain. Regardless if you live in the 6th district of Virginia, or someplace very far away, I encourage you to learn about the candidates running and make and informed choice. Yes, voting is a civic duty, but it must be done rationally and clearly. Otherwise you may be fooled by the next push poll that comes along.