Polling firm right on six of seven predictionsBut Mitchell natives far off mark in Fiegen-McGovern PUC race.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
A Sioux Falls polling firm correctly predicted six of seven races in Tuesday’s election.
Nielson Brothers Polling forecast that Rep. Kristi Noem and Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Nelson, both Republicans, would win second terms, and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney would carry South Dakota.
It also accurately predicted that Initiated Measure 15 and Referred Laws 14 and 16 would be rejected by voters.
NBP was well off in the other PUC race. In its final poll released Monday, it said Democrat Matt McGovern and Republican incumbent Kristie Fiegen were in a “statistical dead heat,” with McGovern leading 41.9 to 41.6 percent. It said Libertarian Russell Clarke was receiving 6.7 percent of support, and there were 9.8 percent undecided.
Two of those three numbers were basically correct, but Fiegen won with 54 percent, followed by 40 percent for McGovern, and 6 percent for Clarke.
In its final poll, NPB had Noem leading Varilek 53.9 to 41.2 percent with 4.9 percent undecided. Noem won 57.5 to 42.5 percent.
In the poll, Nelson led Nemec 59.2 percent to 27.6 percent, with 13.2 percent undecided. Nelson won the election 67-33 percent.
Nielson Brothers reported that Romney led President Barack Obama 53.2 to 41.3 percent in polling, with 5.6 percent still undecided. According to available election data, Romney won 58-30 in South Dakota, with Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson getting 1.6 percent and Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode getting 0.6 percent.
The final NBP survey said IM 15 had dramatically lost support after leading in earlier polls and was trailing 49-39 percent, with 12.1 percent undecided. It was rejected 57-43 percent.
The polling firm said Referred Law 14, which would have transferred 22 percent of the contractors’ excise tax from the state’s general fund to a Large Project Development Fund, was losing 42.4 to 27.6 percent, with 30 percent undecided. It was defeated 58-42 percent.
Referred Law 16 was losing 53.8 to 28.2 percent, with 18.1 percent undecided, in the final poll. The proposed education reform plan was rejected 67-33.
Nielson said the firm chose not to poll on the other four ballot questions. Overall, he said it was a solid election for NBP.
“We felt good,” he said. “Republicans came out a little stronger than we anticipated. It was our first presidential race, and I think we’ll learn from it. Romney and Noem were kind of shoe-ins.”
Nielson said they thought Varilek might run a little bit stronger, but their polls showed Noem gaining strength as Election Day approached.
“It trended Republican at the very end,” he said. “We had a downward trend in his, and an upward trend for her.
“The McGovern one, it was somewhat of a surprise. I think there was so much movement at the end.”
He said it appears a major Republican advertising campaign against McGovern moved some voters. In addition, McGovern’s polling peak came around Oct. 26-27, when he spoke at the prayer service and appeared at the funeral of his grandfather, former South Dakota Sen. George McGovern.
“We had him with some Republican support around the time of the funeral. It tended to be older South Dakotans over 45,” Nielson said. “They tended to go home when that advertising came out. We did have the negative trend going against McGovern.”
Paul Nielson ran for the Legislature as a Democrat in 2008. He lost, and said he doubts he will try for office in the future.
“I don’t see it happening again,” he said.
NBP has received a great deal of heat from Republicans, who have labeled the firm as Democratic-learning, in part because of Nielson’s election history.
Being called unethical is a bit of a puzzle for Paul Nielson, who has worked as a minister, and has a doctorate in ethics and society from the University of Chicago and a master’s of divinity from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.
His brother Mark Nielson holds a doctorate in economics and has taught quantitative methods at the college and graduate levels and worked on Wall Street as a financial economist and contributes economic analysis to the Wall Street Journal on a monthly basis.
The Nielson brothers are Mitchell High School graduates.
NBP uses a single digitally recorded voice in conducting interviews, since “respondents answer more freely and with more candor to this type of automated voice than to a live person on the other end of the line.” Calls are made randomly to phone numbers from a preselected list. The process ensures appropriate geographic and demographic representation, according to the NBP website.
Paul Nielson points to the 2010 congressional race, when NBP’s final survey (of nine tracking polls) of the 2010 November general election estimated Kristi Noem would defeat then-Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin by 2.5 percent with independent candidate B. Thomas Marking receiving 6.5 percent. Noem won by 2.2 percent, and Marking garnered 6 percent.
He said the firm has also been precise in its polls on the 2010 marijuana initiative, which it forecast would lose by 29.9 points. It fell by 28.2 points. Nielson said it has had successes correctly predicting municipal election results in Rapid City, and did well in other surveys.
Nielson said the firm does do private polling as well, but does not disclose its client list. He said NBP will continue to perform polls that will be released to the South Dakota media, and may do a baseline poll on social issues in the coming months, as well as other surveys.
Nielson said in the future, the polls may be done in a three-day period, not five days, to help get greater accuracy. One thing they learned was that in South Dakota, when a trend turns toward the Republican Party, it goes that direction strongly.
“We do it for two reasons,” he said. “One is for publicity and to get our name out there. The other is, we’re curious. We want to know what’s going on out there. I think we’re getting better, and we’ll do better next time.”