Don't Miss

What do SurveyUSA and the LA Times editorial board have in common?

By on February 17, 2014
LA Times SurveyUSA Logo

What do pollsters and editorial boards have in common?

Come election time, they’re always trying to pass off their opinions as facts. And nobody remembers when those opinions-masquerading-as-facts turn out to be wrong.

First, the pollsters. On Tuesday, February 11, Republican Kevin Faulconer trounced fellow councilman David Alvarez in San Diego’s mayoral race. As of February 15,  Faulconer’s margin of victory was more than seven percent, with several thousand provisional ballots left to be counted.

SurveyUSA Flawed Polling Methodology

The Sunday before Election Day, the UT San Diego prognosticated that the race was a dead heat based on their poll. Here’s the opening paragraph from the story headlined, “Poll: Mayor’s race a dead heat“:

Democratic City Councilman David Alvarez has closed the gap after trailing Republican Councilman Kevin Faulconer for much of the San Diego mayor’s race, putting the contenders in a statistical dead heat ahead of Tuesday’s election, according to a new U-T San Diego/10News Poll.

Faulconer still holds a slight lead with 47 percent compared to Alvarez’s 46 percent among likely voters with 7 percent of voters still undecided. The poll’s margin of error is 4 percent which means the race is essentially a toss-up at this point.

The UT San Diego relied on New Jersey-based SurveyUSA for its pollingThe polling firm used “an English-only, recorded voice to conduct its polls.” But, SurveyUSA’s chief pollster Jay Leve doesn’t seem to be taking the error to heart. He’s blaming Alvarez’s turn-out operation.

“It was a sobering lesson that history doesn’t always repeat itself,” Leve told the UT San Diego on Wednesday. “I conclude that a lot of Alvarez supporters who talked the talk didn’t walk the walk.”

“We’ll get em’ next time,” he said.

Polling for drama, not accuracy

Kevin-faulconerThis time or next time, it doesn’t matter whether SurveyUSA gets the numbers right. The purpose of the poll isn’t accuracy, it’s drama — to dish out some “facts” to the objective reporters. And the media devoured every inaccurate morsel of the final SurveyUSA poll.

On Election Day, Reuters’ Marty Graham wrote:

In a race seen as too close to call, San Diego voters went to the polls on Tuesday to choose one of two city councilmen to succeed former Mayor Bob Filner, who resigned last summer amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment.

Faulconer, the front-runner in a field of 11 candidates who ran in November, holds a scant 1 percentage point lead over Alvarez, according to a Survey USA poll commissioned by local news outlets and”

2010 LA Times Editorial: Prop. 14 won’t destroy third parties

Now, to the editorial boards. In 2010, the Los Angeles Times campaigned heavily for Proposition 14, which ditched the traditional party primary system in favor of a top-two system. Under top-two, all candidates appear on a single primary ballot, and the top two vote-getters advance to the November general election, regardless of party.

LA Times LogoThe minor parties desperately warned that top-two would be a third party killer. Not so, said the LA Times editorial board.

In its May 2010 editorial titled, “Prop. 14 won’t destroy third parties,” the Times argued that “abolishing partisan primaries would help give voters more choice.”

“California politics are enlarged and enlivened by the presence of minor parties,” the Times editorialized. “They rarely succeed in electing a candidate to office, but they broaden political debate and thus test mainstream assumptions… For the most part, they would go on losing in June just as they now lose in November.”

2014: Small parties struggling to get on ballot 

Fast forward to 2014. The facts, as reported by, tell a different story. This year, as the law makes its debut in statewide races, minor parties say it’s undermining their ability to even field candidates for the June primary ballot. That’s because the legislative implementation of top-two raised the signature requirement for candidates to qualify for the ballot.

Under the old system, statewide candidates could submit 150 signatures from registered party members in-lieu of a filing fee. Now, the signature-in lieu threshold for small parties has jumped from 150 party members to 10,000 signatures from all voters, a 66-fold increase. Minor party candidates, who couldn’t afford the filing fee, now are unable to pursue the signature in-lieu route, leading to fewer candidates and, in turn, fewer choices for voters.Green party of ca logo

In 2012, small parties collectively ran 21 candidates, the lowest minor party total since 1966 – when no minor parties were on the ballot. In 2012, no Green Party, Libertarian Party or American Independent Party candidate qualified for the November ballot. Three Peace and Freedom candidate made it to the general election, all of whom ran as write-in candidates in the primary.

Data experts are warning other states not to copy California’s  election system just yet.

“We’re getting ahead of the evidence,” wrote Eric McGhee of the Public Policy Institute of California and Paul Mitchell of Political Data, Inc. in a recent Washington Post column. “One study found that voters could not even figure out which candidates were moderate and which were extreme, while another study found that the positions candidates took in the 2012 campaign were actually more polarized than before.”

But, these facts rebut the Times’ official doctrine on Prop. 14. Consequently, they’re left out of the story. A recent news piece by Jean Merl, “Top-two primary system is shaking up California elections,”continues to herald the reform.

This year’s open congressional races could help show how well the new system is working two years in, as candidates and voters adjust.

Jim Mayer, who heads a nonpartisan good-government group that pushed for the top-two primary, said the open congressional races could help show how well it is working two years after its inauguration.

“The thing to watch will be where do these candidates position themselves,” said Mayer, chief executive of California Forward.

The Times, just like SurveyUSA, frequently gets things wrong. But, who really cares? What are the polling numbers on the next great reform?



About John Hrabe

John Hrabe spends his time traveling the world as a freelance journalist. When he isn’t on an international flight, John writes about state and national politics for,, Huffington Post and the editorial pages of the Orange County Register. John’s most recent high-profile investigation uncovered the questionable labor practices of Goodwill Industries, the nonprofit organization famous for its secondhand clothing stores.


  1. Ventura Capitalist

    February 18, 2014 at 2:24 am

    It is sickening what these people have done to California and our country.

  2. Pingback: SD26: Coastal Los Angeles state Senate race tests non-partisan brand | CalWatchDog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *