Alaska Senate Poll: Far, Far Less Than Meets the Eye

by Stuart Rothenberg May 14, 2013 · 3:00 PM EDT

A Harper Polling survey conducted for the Tea Party Leadership Fund, an obscure conservative group that has supported Georgia Republican Rep. Paul Broun and Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul, is one of those polls probably meant for fundraising and little else.

Though writing about the poll and the polling memo automatically gives them more attention than they deserve, those of us in the media can’t merely ignore these kinds of questionable polls conducted for groups that seem more interested in fundraising than in affecting elections.

The May 6-7 IVR survey of 379 respondents tested former Gov. Sarah Palin, 2010 GOP Senate nominee Joe Miller and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell in a three-way Republican primary ballot test, as well as Palin-Miller and Treadwell-Miller in head-to-head ballot tests.

The Harper Polling memo claims that Palin “leads” in the three-way ballot (Palin 32 percent, Treadwell 30 percent, Miller 14 percent), even though her 2-point advantage over Treadwell is well within the poll’s margin of error.

Both Palin and Treadwell lead Miller in head-to-heads, but the lack of a Palin-vs.-Treadwell ballot test deserves to raise eyebrows about the group’s motivation in underwriting the survey. Even including Palin in the poll seems odd. Treadwell has already formed an exploratory committee, while there is no reason to believe that Palin is in the least bit interested in a Senate race.

The polling memo says that “Palin boasts the strongest image” among GOP voters, but that is far from an entirely accurate assessment.

Palin’s name ID ratings are 62 percent favorable/30 percent unfavorable, while Treadwell’s are 54 percent favorable and 15 percent unfavorable. His favorable rating is lower than Palin’s, but his favorable-to-unfavorable ratio is much better. Her ratio is about 2-to-1, while his is close to 3.5-to-1. Treadwell’s unfavorable rating is half of Palin’s.

As for the Tea Party Leadership Fund, according to its 2012 end-of-the-year Federal Election Commission report, the group raised $1.17 million. Almost 90 percent of that came from small-dollar, unitemized individual contributions.

But the fund spent only a little more than $205,000 (less than 18 percent of total receipts) on contributions to candidates or on independent expenditures. More than half of the fund’s federal disbursements during the same period — $545,248 of $951,096 — went to Strategic Fundraising, a well-known Minnesota-based GOP fundraising firm.