Kate Brown still leads, but Oregon's gubernatorial race is closer than expected.
UPDATE 2:30 pm: Len Bergstein, a longtime political consultant, is skeptical of poll results indicating a tighter race between Brown and Pierce.
"This is a bad year for pollsters," said Bergstein, owner of Northwest Strategies. "They are having the worst year in political history."
Pollsters were convinced Hillary Clinton would wallop Bernie Sanders, he said. "Look how wrong they were. Anybody should look at polling with extreme skepticism."
That said, polls like iCitizen's are great news for Pierce, said Bergstein.
"If he is able to get people to take a second look at a race that most think is very tough territory for him to make up — if he’s even close to right, then it’s a message to get out."
Bergstin ticked off a list of reasons pollsters have gotten hammered this year:
It used to be enough to do random digit dialing, he said. "If you went through phone book and got a random sample, it was probably going to be pretty close to where votors are."
Not so today. Cell phones have made it tougher to reach people, and voters are more cynical, cautious and downright untruthful when they answer polls. "At one point it was a novel thing to be asked your opinion about a race," Bergstein said. "People have stopped being candid."
The people who respond to polls may not reflect the people who show up on election day.
Yesterday’s gubernatorial poll caught my eye. According to the poll by iCitizen, a nonpartisan public involvement organization, Republican contender Bud Pierce is gaining ground on Kate Brown. Brown is 7 points ahead of Pierce, leading the race 42% to 35%, with 23% undecided.
“At this stage, it’s a competitive contest,” says Mark Keida, director of research and polling for iCitizen told the Portland Tribune.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way.
In an interview with Oregon Business last year, Brown’s campaign consultant Carol Butler had this to say about her client’s competition:
“With all due respect to [Republican challenger] Dr. Bud Pierce, the governor hasn’t drawn an opponent at this point.”
Butler, who is currently on sabbatical in North Carolina, declined to comment on the iCitizen poll.
Liz Accola Meunier, communications director for Brown's reelection campaign, said in an email: "Governor Brown is focused on doing her job as governor right now. She's looking forward to debating her Republican opponent this fall and sharing with voters her vision for moving Oregon forward."
Menueir pointed to a more positive poll of registered voters conducted in June for Democrats by a Democratic polling firm. Fifty-five percent of participants approved of Brown's work thus far as governor; 21% — said they strongly approved. The remaining 34% said they "somewhat approve" of Brown's track record.
Oregon is an unshakeably blue state. And Bud Pierce is unshakeably conservative. But once you get past the demographics — and the governor's likeability factor — the iCitizen poll results aren’t so surprising.
Thrust unceremoniously into office, Kate Brown has yet to articulate a clear vision for the governorship and a plan for "moving Oregon forward." She has faced criticism recently for not taking a stand on two key policy and process issues — IP28 and the gubernatorial debates.
Next week, we will publish an interview with outgoing Energy Trust leader Margie Harris. Asked if Governor Brown was a leader on energy issues, Harris paused before delivering a curt response.
“I think Kate Brown has related values that support sustainability," Harris said. "She cares deeply about carbon reduction. I’ll leave it there.”
Meunier did not respond to a question about the Trump factor's influence on the gubernatorial election.