Polls say a lot about the 8th District congressional race between four-term Democratic incumbent Jim Marshall and Republican challenger Austin Scott, but they dont all say the same things or address exactly the same questions.
Three firms have released polls on the race recently: The Mellman Group, hired by Marshalls campaign; independent but Republican-leaning pollster Landmark Communications; and Penn Schoen Berland, at the behest of the congressional newspaper The Hill.
Two of the polls show Scott with a strong lead, while Mellmans says Marshall has a lead thats within the polls margin of error.
Scott spokesman Sam Ray says the Scott campaign has its own numbers too.
Were doing internal polls every week, but theyre not public, he said. The last poll the campaign released, a month ago, showed Scott leading by 8 points, and there hasnt been much change since then, Ray said.
Just as interesting as the final tally, however, is how the polls were done and who they reached.
The Hills phone survey of 400 definite and probable voters gives Scott a 13-point lead over Marshall, and it indicates that national trends against incumbents and Democrats are having an impact on the 8th District race.
Scott has worked hard to tie Marshall to President Barack Obama and House Democratic leaders, and The Hills poll indicates that it has had some impact. Marshall is not personally unpopular among voters, according to The Hills poll, but 41 percent of respondents said theyre less likely to vote for him because hes an incumbent.
Respondents disapproved of Congress performance by more than 3-1. They also disapproved of Obama by 64 percent to 36 percent, with three-quarters saying that strongly impacted their congressional choice.
The most extensive poll surveying nearly three times as many people as Mellman or The Hills poll was released this week by Landmark Communications of Duluth.
Only respondents who said they definitely plan to vote somewhat likely to vote are included in the final report, according to Landmarks methodology.
The most recent Landmark poll said voters were going for Scott about 53 percent to 39 percent, leaving the remaining undecided voters too few to change the outcome. Thats not a real shift from the previous week, though both candidates have now cut further into the pool of undecided voters.
A previous Landmark poll, released Oct. 21, said Scotts margin held up across all age groups. In this weeks poll, however, Marshall had evened out the figures among voters under age 35. He also gained a little more support from male voters, but they still favored Scott by a considerable margin.
Marshall spokesman Doug Moore said Landmarks automated robopolling is far less likely to get good results than interviews by live callers.
People hear a recorded call of any sort and they just hang up the phone, he said. I dont consider that to be worth anything.
Moore, perhaps not surprisingly, said he considers the Mellman poll most reliable.
The Mellman poll said Marshall is well liked by about 48 percent of voters and disliked by about 34 percent, despite representing a district thats an estimated 45 percent Republican.
Scott, less well known than the eight-year incumbent, has a similar proportion of people who actively like or dislike him, but a bigger chunk undecided, the Mellman poll said.
Marshalls campaign is counting on get-out-the-vote efforts by national and gubernatorial campaigns to help close the poll gap, along with predominantly younger voters who use cell phones exclusively and are therefore underrepresented in polls based on land line phones, Moore said.
Charles Bullock, head of the University of Georgias political science department, agrees with Moore on some poll mechanics but not necessarily on results.
He wonders if that poll is assigning substantially more weight to expected black voters than the other polls, he said.
Major national pollsters tend to agree that the 8th District is probably going to elect a Republican, Bullock said.
While there is concern about missing people who rely on cell phones, polls for this years primary election tended to predict the results fairly well, he said.
Despite problems, poll results cant be dismissed out of hand, Bullock said. Theyre the best evidence anyone will have until election results are in, he said, and both campaigns pay them close attention.
The candidate whos getting unfavorable results out of polling will say that the polls are bad, Bullock said.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.