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I haven’t yet written much — at least not nearly as much as I plan to — about the SD-29 State Senate race between Ling-Ling Chang, Sukhee Kang, and Josh Newman. Chang is the incumbent Assemblywoman from AD-55, which along with AD-65 makes up almost all of the district. Kang is the former Mayor of the City of Irvine, who moved to become part of Fullerton’s flourishing Korean community after the 2014 elections. Newman was a high-tech executive who cashed out owns and now runs a non-profit that helps U.S. veterans (a group to which he belongs) find employment.
This piece is prompted by an eye-popping piece by Dan Chmielewski — Chumley is a candidate for elected office now, so I’m going to use his real name through June — purchaser and now almost sole willing-to-own-up-to-it writer on The Liberal OC — entitled “SD-29 Survey; Close Between Chang and Kang’ Newman is a non-factor.” (I presume that it’s supposed to be punctuated as “SD-29 Survey: Close Between Chang and Kang; Newman is a non-factor” — colon then semicolon rather than semicolon then comma — but I print it as published to avoid accusations of twisting his meaning.)
I want you to take a moment and mull over what you think that that headline suggests. And then — especially if you are involved in politics and don’t necessarily do so automatically — I want you to engage your sense of moral judgment as you read the rest of this piece.
Before we get to the key question, let’s notice some key things about Chmielewski’s story — which appears in full at the bottom of this piece. I’m color-coding some of its text to match comments here, to make it easier to find the original references.
.1) First, let’s note what’s NOT there. Despite its reading like a press release, there is no indication that this is one, either from the Kang campaign or from Public Policy Polling (PPP). In fact — unlike some of PPP’s most solid and respected commissioned polls, such as those that it has done for the Daily Kos website, there’s no link to the poll and no more discussion of its methodology beyond its date and number of respondents. Nevertheless, we can infer some aspects of its methodology from some very unusual results. LibOC has published press releases, but usually identifies them as such. This is, on its face, Chmielewski’s own reporting of the findings.
2) Second, note that a major thrust of the story is that Newman is not attracting support and should get out of the race. This is made explicit in a characteristic comment from an anonymous guest of the site — here named “bluebelly” — saying what would seem to be safely said under one’s own name:
“bluebelly, March 24, 2016 at 6:18 pm: Non-factor Newman indeed. It’s time Josh Newman join his own California Democratic Party in its endorsement of Kang.”
Now I’m going to suggest that you have probably made an important assumption in reading that paragraph, because an honest account would HAVE TO include it:
You have assumed that the poll asked voters opinions about Newman.
You have assumed, moreover, that Newman was treated the same way in the poll as the other two candidates. One could get away with not asking questions about Newman if one also didn’t ask questions about the other candidates: if, for example, one asked voters to name the candidates in the race and then asked only about those candidates, that would be fine. But, as I think is beyond reasonable doubt, that didn’t happen.
You have assumed that no one who cared about your judgment of their honesty would try to deceive you about something so basic. I can’t say that this isn’t true — because I don’t know that Chmielewski actually cares whether you think that he is lying, so long as he gets away with it.
You have assumed that, when the story says that there are only two “major candidates,” that assertion comes from some reliable poll, or something like that, rather than just being an opinion. Well, hang on to your hats.
A personal note: I was so irked at the apparent dishonesty of this piece — much of which you’ll find in the next section — that in light of this story I did something that I don’t usually do as a blogger: I did some actual reporting. I called PPP and received a call back from Jim Williams, who I believe is #2 in the organization after the extremely quotable Tom Jensen. (Jensen is often quoted on bizarre polling reports PPP tosses in on questions like whether Trump voters think that Barack Obama is an extraterrestrial or something. Good stuff! “Party regulars” often hate it –because polling may be a good place for distortion, but not for levity!)
I asked Williams whether, as with the Daily Kos polls, they would be publishing the “internals” that would normally include question wording — and would answer my questions above. He said that that decision is up to client. He didn’t know whether there had been a press release or whether there was plans to release them. (He’ll get back to me if he finds out that there were.) He said one other pertinent thing to me, but I’m not going to publish it unless Chmielewski or the Kang campaign (which I suppose are technically separate entities) first deny it. (Sukhee’s far too smart to do so. Chmielewski — well, we’ll see.)
3) Third, the poll pretty clearly didn’t ask about anyone except Chang and Kang. This is clear because, in the two instances where one would expect at least some subset of the voters to favor Newman. none did. Before giving more information about the candidates: the 100% of the sample pool is entirely accounted for: 32% Chang, 28% Kang, and 40% undecided. (Well, “almost” 40% — but with only 591 respondents, any more than two or three supporting Newman would have rounded “under 40” to 39% instead. As 32+28+40=100, that leaves no room in this poll for anyone to have supported Newman. After having learned information about the candidates — more on that topic later on — the numbers are 33+31+36=100, with once again no room for Newman.
I can’t overemphasize how unlikely this is. It’s not like the third candidate being asked about in the poll was named “Syphilitic Child Molester” or even “Dan Chmielewski.” Even if it were, one could insert a name like “Chmielewski” as a third option in such a poll with 40% undecided and it would still probably pull pull 3-5%. Any honest political consultant would tell you: put a “safe, strong, American-sounding name” like “Josh Newman” put up against the foreign-sounding names of two Asian woman* in a district that is only about a third Asian, would surely pull more than that.
*Yes, I know that Kang is male. Voters probably don’t. I’ve been present at the moments when large numbers of people previously unfamiliar with Kang found out that “Sukhee” was a man’s name, and they were almost uniformly surprised. I say this not to make fun of his name, but to point out a basic fact of politics: just as two East Asians (or Mexicans, or Jews, or Poles) will tend to split the vote in an election against one candidate who isn’t from that ethnic group, two Asian women will be even more likely to do so — and I would bet heavily that voters will presume that Sukhee is female. That’s one reason — albeit one of the worse ones — that Newman has a decent chance of making the runoff. The better reasons have to do with character, ideology, biography, competence, and a Bernie Sanders-like party-outsider’s perspective on politics.
That’s WHY Kang wants Newman out of the race — and wants you to think that he has no chance. If this reminds you of the situation between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, you’re pretty much right — except that in this situation there’s no 300-pledged-delegate lead for Newman to overcome: just smothering party-insider support for Kang and dishonest commissioned polls like the one that Chmielewski was “somehow” able to find.
Here’s some good news for Newman in the poll:
- Chang is not well-known in the district
- 40% of voters are undecided prior to the “persuasive polling” information. (This is technically not a push poll because its main intent was to produce bogus stories like Chmielewski’s rather than to influence the individual voters on the other end of the automated “conversation.”
- Even after receiving three nasty bits of information about Chang — about her seeming lies about her academic record (the most conclusive information of which was first reported here on OJB), about her voting to allow guns on school campuses, and about potentially supporting anti-Latino and anti-Chinese racist GOP Presidential candidate Trump — only about a dozen of the 600 respondents moved towards Kang.
- Chang IS vulnerable on the honesty issue — which either Newman or Kang will be able to use in November.
4) Finally: As readers know, I sometimes like to give background political figures little nicknames to make them more memorable to voters who might otherwise tend to ignore them and their crimes against decency. I’ve already used up two excellent such nicknames beginning with “D” — for consultants “Dishonest Dave” Gilliard and “Despicable Dave” Ellis. (I also used up “Desperate” for Ed Royce in 2012 — when he most certainly was.) Now that I’ve decided to refer by Chmielewski by name for the next few months, I really need a moniker other than Chumley to do him justice. Readers, I need your help! Should it be “Deceptive Dan”? “Deceiving Dan”? “Distorting Dan”? “Demeaning Dan”? “De-meaning Dan”? “Dissembling Dan”? I think that you can figure out the theme that I’m shooting for her; your suggestions (or votes — under your own names or identities, please, and just one to a customer!) would be more than welcome!
Below you’ll find Original Lib OC story in full; font sizes shrunk to be less obnoxious and passages are color-coded (with bold font added) for reasons discussed above:
A new Public Policy Polling survey finds that the race in the open, GOP-held 29th Senate District is shaping up to be very a competitive contest in the fall. The two major candidates, Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang, a Republican, and Democrat Sukhee Kang, former mayor of Irvine, are nearly tied among likely general-election voters in the first ask, with Chang being favored by 32% and Kang by 28%. Nearly 40% are undecided at this early point.
After a description of both candidates and their backgrounds, the race remains essentially tied, with Chang at 33% and Kang at 31%. A large number of voters, 36%, remain undecided, even after learning more about the candidates. Although she currently represents Assembly District 55, which encompasses nearly half of the Senate seat, Chang has been in office only a little more than year, and is not well-known in the Senate district. Among those voters who could rate her performance, slightly more disapproved than approved, 29%-23%.
The survey also found that several issues could negatively impact Chang in a general-election campaign:
- In her 2014 Assembly campaign, Chang was discovered by several newspapers to have made inaccurate claims about her college attendance record. The poll found that a whopping 69% of respondents would be less likely to vote for a candidate that had made false statements about their background, including claiming they had a college degree when they in fact had none. Even among Republicans, 67% indicated they would frown on a candidate who made such claims.
- Respondents were also very strong in their desire to have a candidate who supported tougher gun laws, with 57% saying that was an important attribute in a Senate candidate. Among minority voters in this minority-majority (68%) district, even larger majorities said a candidate’s stand on gun control was important – a huge 76% among Asians, and 65% among Latinos. When told Chang was a member of the NRA, and had voted to allow guns on school campuses, 53% of voters said they would be less likely to vote for such a candidate. An even higher 63% of Asian voters in this district said they would be less likely to vote for such a candidate
- If Donald Trump were to be the Republican nominee for president in the fall, that development could also put Chang in a bind. If Chang were to support Trump, 41% of voters would be less likely to support her. Among the two major ethnic groups in the district, voters were even more emphatic: 50% of Latinos would be less likely to vote for her, and 46% of Asians said the same.
The survey findings appear to reinforce independent characterizations of the competitiveness of this Senate seat since it was reconfigured by the Citizens Redistricting Commission in 2011. The reliable, non-partisan California Targetbook, which analyzes legislative races, has said, “Demographic shifts make this district less reliably Republican than in the past and a very competitive race can be expected.” The Orange County Register wrote that the race “is expected to be a tougher battle against Democrats and has a larger Asian constituency…Kang is expected to mount a strong campaign in a district where Republicans have a shrinking advantage of 3 percentage points.”
PPP surveyed 591 general-election voters in the 29th Senate District from March 21-22, 2016. The margin of error is +/-4.0%. This poll was conducted by automated telephone interviews, including cell phones.