We don’t envy political pollsters in a race like the Pittsburgh Mayoral Primary. When an election is likely to be decided by the votes of fewer than 45,000 city residents, even getting 400 people to answer a phone interview is no minor (or inexpensive) feat. Consider, moreover, that other public polls identified as much as 16% of the electorate as “undecided” a week before the election. In a race like this, one campaign driving a couple extra bus-loads of voters to the polls could swing numbers wildly in one direction or another. It reminds us that focusing our core business on consumer research is much better for our quality of life.
But, just for fun and with no commercial interest in the outcome whatsoever, we’re happy to give it a shot.
HOW WE GOT HERE
We started tracking the mayoral primary going all the way back to November 30th of 2011, when we first tested a list of candidates including Luke Ravenstahl, Bill Peduto, Mike Lamb, and Jack Wagner. That first wave of data showed Ravenstahl as a clear front-runner, with only a few points separating the other three, depending on the assumptions we made about turn-out (more on this later).
Over the next 16 months, we polled over 8,500 city Democrats to see the trend lines on a monthly basis. We also studied head-to-head scenarios between Ravenstahl and each of the challengers. Then, when Ravenstahl dropped out of the race, we even tested a battery of new or hypothetical names like Jim Ferlo, Darlene Harris, Chelsea Wagner, and David Caliguiri (the latter of which polled quite well, in fact) against the likes of Peduto, Wagner, and Lamb.
Now, after all of that, an essentially two-candidate race has emerged between Bill Peduto and Jack Wagner. With all due respect to Jake Wheatley and A.J. Richardson, their numbers have never gained enough momentum to put a dent in the support for the other two.
THE CURRENT FIELD
We’ve been tracking the current slate of candidates since April 1st, having polled a total of 7,493 city Democrats during that period. The movement in those numbers over the past six weeks has been astonishing. In mid-April, the race appeared to be a lock for Wagner, who held a lead as high as double-digits (again depending on the turn-out model). By early May, seeming to correlate with attack ads launched against Peduto by a group allegedly steered by Luke Ravenstahl the numbers began trending sharply in Peduto’s direction. And, in the past week, our numbers have shown a race much closer than reported by the other recent public polls.
And now we have the fun task of trying to predict how the race will end when the polls close at 8pm tonight. To formulate this prediction, we have to not only factor in the responses to our polls but also gauge far more muddled factors like the expected turn-out composition and the final decisions made by a large and lagging group of late Undecideds (who themselves may or may not vote).