Automated Pollster Includes Cousin in Republican Primary Survey
Even the savviest of political observers would have been confused by automated pollster Public Policy Polling's South Carolina Republican presidential survey released Tuesday afternoon. The poll tested -- among Republican candidates Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman -- a mystery woman: Maggie Patton.
Patton, it turns out, is the cousin of Public Policy Polling's director, Tom Jensen. Jensen said he included Patton in the survey to see how a "random person" would fare -- one week after the Democratic-leaning pollster received a fair amount of attention for showing Huntsman only receiving the support of one respondent in a poll of 481 usual Iowa Republican caucusgoers.
"I was interested after Huntsman only had 1 person pick him in Iowa last week to see if some random person would get as much or more support than him in South Carolina," Jensen told Hotline On Call in an e-mail.
Not one of the 1,000 poll respondents selected Patton. But Jensen's firm also asked whether respondents have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Patton, despite the fact that she is not a public figure.
Three percent of "usual Republican primary voters" said they had a favorable opinion Patton, while fully 14 percent said they had an unfavorable opinion of her. Patton, former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and activist Fred Karger had roughly the same splits -- with the percentage of voters who have an unfavorable opinion of the candidate being at least quadruple the percentage that had a favorable opinion.
"I was also interested to see how a random person's favorability would stack up to some of the back of the field candidates," said Jensen.
"It shows you how much traction the Gary Johnsons and Buddy Roemers of the world are getting when their numbers are the same as someone you just throw on the poll out of the blue."
Considering 83 percent of respondents had no opinion of Johnson and 80 percent had no opinion of Roemer, we're not sure that including an employee's cousin on the poll was necessary to prove that these lower-tier candidates are little-known.
There is nothing that prevents a pollster from using a fabricated name in a matchup. For instance, if a candidate is the first to declare early in a race, pollsters working for the campaign may sometimes test that candidate against a fabricated name to determine the candidate's initial strength on the ballot, in lieu of testing them against a generic opponent.
Both Democratic and Republican pollsters said that including one's cousin on a ballot test was not unethical. But one veteran Republican pollster characterized that aspect of the poll as an attempted "cheap shot" at Huntsman and lesser-known Republican candidates "that didn't work out" because Patton did not receive a single vote, so the pollster could not say that his cousin outperformed those candidates on the ballot and earn media attention.
The pollster did conduct two matchups -- including an initial ballot test -- without Patton included; automated polls do not meet Hotline On Call's standards for publication.