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Democratic PPP Polls Flood Early Senate Landscape

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PPP tested former Ohio secretary of state Ken Blackwell as a potential Senate candidate earlier this cycle before he was even publicly exploring a bid.

As a result, candidates aren’t necessarily hiring PPP as their primary pollster, but potential candidates are instead looking to the firm to test their viability. An automated poll can be one-eighth of the cost of a traditional survey that uses live callers to conduct interviews.

While the strategy seems to be working for PPP, not everyone agrees with the philosophy.

SurveyUSA uses automated interviews to conduct many of its polls but differs from PPP as to when and where surveys should be conducted.

“All of our energy is trying to get surveys right, not to do more surveys,” SurveyUSA founder Jay Leve told Roll Call this week. SurveyUSA does not poll without a paying client, which Leve believes is a critical ingredient of good research, along with adherence to the codes of conduct from various polling associations.

“When one or more [of those elements] is missing, there is more opportunity for abuse,” Leve said. In comparison, when all of the pieces are together, it “provides the best opportunity for learning and the least opportunity for chicanery.”

Leve is careful to make the distinction between a partisan firm, such as PPP, trying to attract partisan clients and his non-partisan research firm, which conducts much of its horse-race polling for local media clients.

According to Jensen, his firm isn’t conducting more polls than usual. Instead, PPP’s share of the polling looks larger because of the lack of other public surveys. That’s likely to change in a couple of months.

Pollster Scott Rasmussen told Roll Call that his firm will probably start polling Senate races this fall when the political climate starts to settle and the presidential race becomes more defined.

“Until we get past the Iowa State Fair, political analysis is worthless,” Rasmussen said about the mid-August event. Rasmussen, who admitted he was exaggerating a bit, also downplayed the concept of shaping narratives.

But with a hungry media eager to eat up any and all polls, surveys conducted by PPP, Rasmussen and others inevitably make their way into political story lines.

That can create headaches for party strategists, who doubt those public polls will ultimately persuade or dissuade serious potential candidates from entering or exiting a race. Party strategists on both sides of the aisle will always rely on surveys they pay for by firms they trust.

“You’d have to be high to make decisions based on either of those firms,” Jesmer said, referring to PPP and Rasmussen.

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