Gov. Sam Brownback’s campaign took an unusual step Tuesday night and released an internal poll that showed the governor up by 1 percentage point against Democrat Paul Davis, hours after another poll showed Davis leading by 8 percentage points.
A poll from SurveyUSA, paid for by KSN-TV, showed Davis leading 48 percent to 40 percent among likely voters in the governor’s race; it had a margin of error of 4.2 percentage points.
The Brownback campaign refused the Wichita TV station’s request for an interview and put out a statement questioning the validity of the SurveyUSA poll.
Brownback campaign spokesman John Milburn provided a memo on an internal poll conducted by the Oklahoma-based firm Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates that showed the governor leading Davis 43 percent to 42 percent.
Milburn would not release any demographic information or what questions were asked of respondents. The margin of error is 4.3 percentage points.
Chapman Rackaway, a professor of political science at Fort Hays State University, called the release of the internal poll “a moment of panic” by the Brownback campaign.
“I would hold off on ‘desperation’ until October. If they’re still fumbling around and they’re still doing things like this that appear very reactive and kind of not thought-through in October, then I’ll say ‘desperation,’ ” Rackaway said. “But I’ll definitely go as far to say that it’s a bit of panic right now.”
Rackaway said the campaign was trying to change the narrative by releasing the internal poll but that even the internal poll is a strong showing for the Democratic candidate in a very red state.
Rackaway said campaigns typically keep information from internal polls closely guarded. He said the tight race is a new phenomenon for Brownback’s political team, which he said could be causing them to make flubs.
“Normally, they’ve been up early and they’ve held on strong. They’ve never experienced a campaign like this,” he said. “This isn’t the normally message-controlled, very smart campaign that we’ve come to see from Sam Brownback and his team.”
Milburn said in a statement that “SurveyUSA has a history of inaccurate polling and this latest release from the organization is more of the same.” He added that SurveyUSA’s data indicated growing support for the governor among Republicans and independents, which he contended should have yielded a closer overall result.
The poll showed Democrats were solidly united behind Davis, with 91 percent supporting him. It also showed Davis leading among independents by 10 percentage points. The Brownback campaign contends that the SurveyUSA poll weighted the Democratic vote too heavily, inflating Davis’ support.
Milburn said the campaign released the internal poll to dispel the notion that Davis has a comfortable lead and show that the Republican base is starting to come together.
“The race is tight. Support for the governor among Republicans and independents is swinging more to his favor, an indication that the race is much closer than others would have you believe,” Milburn said. “We’ve always kind of said it’s a close race. The governor said it himself that it’s a close race.
“It’s closer than what other polls would have people believe,” Milburn said.
A fundraising e-mail from Brownback campaign manager Mark Dugan that went out late Wednesday stated confidently: “I have good news to report – we are winning.”
The e-mail then deconstructs the SurveyUSA poll. “The sun is shining in Kansas. Don’t let a bunch of liberals tell you any different,” Dugan states at the end of the e-mail.
The Davis campaign would not comment on Brownback’s internal poll. It did note in a short release that Brownback’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign found SurveyUSA’s polling reliable enough to promote on social media when it showed him leading Sen. Tom Holland, D-Lawrence, by 28 percentage points.
Most independent polls have shown Davis leading in the race, but the margins have varied. RealClearPolitics, a website that aggregates data from competing polls, gives Davis a 2.8 percentage point advantage and rates the race as a toss-up.
Rackaway has repeatedly cautioned about giving too much value to early polls, which he says show momentum but do not necessarily predict electoral results. However, he said the polling data should worry the Brownback campaign.
“They continue to really be hammering Brownback in these polls,” Rackaway said. “The Brownback campaign was able to write off those early polls as maybe being aberrations or as the sign of momentary frustration. Now it’s a consistent trend.”