By Jim Ellis
Feb. 22, 2017 — Many political analysts and observers have predicted that the northern Atlanta suburban special election to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price will be the most competitive of the early cycle political contests, and a new Clout Research (formerly Wenzel Strategies) poll lends some credence to such an assertion.
According to the survey (Feb. 17-18; 694 very likely and somewhat likely GA-6 special election voters), it is Democrat Jon Ossoff who leads the jungle primary with 31.7 percent support followed by former Secretary of State Karen Handel (R) who commands 24.9 percent. Businessman Jon Gray (R) is the only other candidate in double-digits, posting 10.6 percent preference. State Sen. Judson Hill (R), one of the more active contenders in the early going, is next recording 9.2 percent.
The Democrats have been attempting to sell that argument that they are competitive in this reliably Republican district because President Trump carried the seat by only 1.5 percentage points. This compared to Rep. Price averaging 76 percent of the vote over seven terms and scoring a 62 percent re-election victory in November, a full 14 points better than Trump’s performance.
But, the Clout data now finds President Trump’s approval rating at 57:42 percent favorable to unfavorable (41 percent very favorable). Such an index hardly demonstrates the type of widespread dissatisfaction with the new president and administration to support any drastic change in voter behavior.
Though Ossoff leads in the polling, the questionnaire methodology is skewed in his favor at least to a degree. The sample does not appear biased; in fact far more Republicans than Democrats are polled (42 percent R, 28 percent D, 30 percent independent), but that is a relatively accurate depiction of the district’s political composition. The skew comes in the form of placing Ossoff as the only Democrat in the field of candidates. In actuality, five Democrats filed, including former state Sen. Ron Slotin, Ossoff, and three others.
The poll questionnaire also listed only five of the 11 filed Republicans, but did leave a “someone else” option for what the pollsters clearly believe are minor candidates. The fact that Ossoff is the only Democrat among five Republican choices gives Democratic respondents one significant option, which could well have inflated his polling standing.
Even placing first with just below 32 percent may well indicate that Ossoff has a legitimate chance to qualify for the run-off, but in a head-to-head battle with a lone Republican, his prospects dim significantly. Even in this poll, the combined GOP preference was 47.9 percent as compared to Ossoff’s 31.7 percent.
Additionally, Clout/Wenzel has come under criticism for its past polling accuracy. The FiveThirtyEight political research organization that noted prognosticator Nate Silver heads rates Clout Research as a C- polling organization, through testing nine of their previous polls. They find a simple average error rate of 9.0 percent, which is very high, while saying that Clout has called only 33 percent of their races correctly.
The jungle primary election is scheduled for April 18. If no candidate receives a majority vote, a likely scenario with 18 candidates on the ballot, the top two finishers regardless of political party affiliation will advance to a June 20 run-off.
Though this early Clout Research poll is somewhat flawed, we can derive that the competition factor does appear greater here than in the other four special election contests. Therefore, we can be certain of seeing much more data flowing from here during the coming weeks.