IA-03: Poll is testing negative messages about Jim Mowrer and Mike Sherzan (updated)

UPDATE: I got this call myself on March 22 and recorded the questions, so was able to fill in gaps below.

A poll is in the field testing negative messages about two of the three Democratic candidates running in Iowa’s third Congressional district. I haven’t received the call, but I discussed it with two respondents, one of whom shared notes on the poll with me. I encourage all activists to take notes on political surveys, whether they are legitimate message-testing polls, like this one, or push-polls. Campaigns use message-testing to collect and analyze data about candidates’ strengths and weaknesses and which talking points resonate with voters. In contrast, as Kathy Frankovic explained here a push-poll is “political telemarketing masquerading as a poll,” designed solely to disseminate negative information.

Three Democrats are seeking the nomination in IA-03: Desmund Adams, Jim Mowrer, and Mike Sherzan. The respondents who told me about this poll heard negative messages about Mowrer and Sherzan only. Both had said on the first ballot test that they were supporting Mowrer. If any Bleeding Heartland readers receive the same call, please say you plan to vote for Adams and then let me know whether the caller presents a list of unflattering statements about him. (UPDATE: Another respondent reports that he indicated strong support for Adams but was not given negative information about him.)

It’s possible that whoever paid for this call–my hunch is Sherzan’s campaign–is more concerned about Mowrer than Adams, because Mowrer has a lot of support from Democratic insiders and more funds to raise his name recognition across the district before June 7.

Multiple acquaintances received this call over the weekend. The caller’s number was 208-232-8892, which appears to belong to the market research and polling firm Bernett Research Services.

The survey lasted 18 to 20 minutes. The caller asked for the respondent by name, indicating that the firm is working from a list of registered voters, rather than using a random-digit dialing technique. The beginning of the questionnaire asked standard questions. From notes provided by one of my sources:

Registered to vote?
Republican, Democrat, or Independent?
How excited to vote in June 6th US Senate and Congressional primary?
Did I think the country was on the right or wrong track?
Opinion of following on a scale of 0-100 with 100 being very positive/liked 0 being disliked. Could pick any number in that range
Barack Obama
Hillary Clinton
Patty Judge [note from desmoinesdem: my sources agree the call didn’t ask about the other Democratic candidates running against Senator Chuck Grassley]
Bernie Sanders
Donald Trump

Asked if election today who i would vote for…Jim Mowrer (guy on phone kept pronouncing it mower), Mike Sherzan, or Desmund Adams? I said Jim Mowrer

UPDATE: The caller who polled me pronounced Mowrer’s name correctly. Each time he gave the ballot test, I answered (truthfully) that I am undecided. Every time he pushed me, for instance: “Well, if the election were held today and you had to decide right now, which candidate would you lean toward?”

A message-testing survey will typically ask respondents which candidate they prefer multiple times, before and after presenting questions about issues or positive and negative statements about candidates. My source’s notes are consistent with what my other source remembered about the call:

Asked which messaging was more important
Income inequality or middle class needs more help
Middle class needs more help or corporations taking over elections/Citizens United [Supreme Court ruling]
Corporations taking over elections/Citizens United or income inequality

Read lines on Mike Sherzan and his background and if more likely, somewhat likely, not likely at all, or less likely to support.
Son of a washer/dryer salesman and his dad died when Mike was young and Mike supported the family
Mike’s business was sold to employees to stay in Iowa
Mike’s business made women executives and paid same as men
Mike’s employees received bonuses and paid well – compensation beyond regular 401k

Only messaging on Jim Mowrer was he was a war veteran and served in some role with Secretary of Army and fought for his country.

Nothing on Adams.

Where I was now after hearing that if election held today – Mowrer, Sherzan, or Adams? I said Mowrer.

UPDATE: I recorded the call on March 22 and was able to get the precise wording on the messages being tested.

“We need to elect a candidate who will work to rebuild America’s middle class by putting them ahead of special interests and campaign contributors,” or “We need to elect a candidate who will work to restore optimism about the American Dream by helping create good-paying jobs through innovation, new industries and the best-educated workers.” Which statement comes closer to your views, even if neither is exactly right? Much more, or somewhat more?

“We need to elect a candidate who will adjust the growing income inequality in America by boosting wages and guarantee benefits so workers can get ahead,” or “We need to elect a candidate who will work to restore optimism about the American Dream by creating good-paying jobs through innovation, industries and the best-educated workers.” Which statement comes closer to your views, even if neither is exactly right?

“We need to elect a candidate who will adjust the growing income inequality in America by boosting wages and guarantee benefits so workers can get ahead,” or “We need to elect a candidate who will work to rebuild America’s middle class by putting them ahead of special interests and campaign contributors”? Much more, or somewhat more?

Next the caller read a statement about Jim Mowrer and asked me to rate it from 0 to 10 based on how convincing it was, with 10 being most convincing and zero not at all convincing.

“Jim Mowrer is an Iraq War veteran and IT specialist from Des Moines. After September 11, Mowrer enlisted in the National Guard where he was deployed as an intelligence analyst. After his tour of duty, Mowrer became special assistant to the undersecretary of the Army, where he worked to save taxpayer money by making America more efficient in the Congress. Mowrer will protect Social Security and Medicare, work to eliminate tax breaks for big corporations and Wall Street, and fight to guarantee paid family leave, so parents can stay home with sick kids without fear of being penalized.”

In my call, the positive statements about Sherzan were presented next, and for each I was asked whether the statement would make me much more likely, somewhat more likely, no more likely or less likely to vote for Sherzan.

“At Sherzan’s company, 60 percent of the managers are women, including women whom he hired to take over as CEO. The women who work there are paid the same as men in the same jobs.”

“Sherzan grew up on the east side of Des Moines, the son of a washer and dryer salesman. His father died when he was in college, so his family relied on Social Security to make ends meet. Sherzan also helped pay family expenses by baling hay and move furniture.”

“When Sherzan retired, he turned down national bids, instead selling his company to employees to make his company stay in Iowa, and his workers’ jobs were secured.”

“Unlike companies in his industry, Sherzan made his company employee-owned by giving them shares every year. Sherzan also shared his profits with his workers by putting annual profits in every employee’s retirement plan, on top of their 401(K) benefits.”

“Sherzan built his company from the ground up, starting with only three employees. It now employs 60 Iowans and helps thousands of people across the country with financial planning for college, retirement, and buying a home.”

At this point, the caller did the ballot test again. I said I was undecided again, and was pushed to say which candidate I would lean towards.

Next the caller read more statements about Sherzan, and I was asked to say whether they were very/somewhat/a little/not at all convincing.

“In Congress, Sherzan wants to help working families by closing tax loopholes for big corporations and cutting taxes for middle-class families.”

“Sherzan wants to make education a priority in Washington again. He wants to invest more in the education system so we can give more resources to our schools so America’s students can prepare to compete in the global economy.”

“Sherzan believes that can expand renewable energy and grow the economy at the same time in Iowa. Sherzan will work to increase funding for the research in biofuels and wind energy, connect leaders in renewable energy to Iowa-based job creators to bring more jobs in that industry to Iowa, and try to provide tax credits to small businesses who use environmentally-friendly practices.”

“In Congress, Sherzan will protect Medicaid and other health care programs Iowans rely on. He opposes Branstad’s efforts to privatize Medicaid and close Iowa’s mental health facilities.”

“Small businesses are the biggest job creators in America, and we should be doing more to help people who want to start their own small business. Sherzan wants to close loopholes giving corporations an advantage over small businesses that play by the rules. He also wants to provide tax credits and incentives to small businesses that help their employees and provide them with benefits, just like Sherzan did for his workers.”

“Sherzan wants to clean up some of the mess in Washington making it more transparent and accountable. Sherzan wants to set term limits for members of Congress, and he supports a constitutional amendment to repeal Citizens United.”

“As a businessman, Sherzan paid women the same as men, and he promoted women to the highest level of his firm, because they earned it. In Congress, Sherzan will fight to guarantee that women earn equal pay for equal work, earn paid sick and parental leave, increased child care assistance, and expand access to quality and affordable health care.”

“Sherzan wants to keep Social Security and Medicare strong. After his father died when he was in college, Sherzan’s family relied on Social Security to make ends meet. Sherzan opposes plans to privatize Social Security and turn Medicare into a voucher program. In Congress he will also fight to make long-term care for seniors more affordable and accessible, work expand home health care and strengthen Social Security.”

“In your own words, how would you describe Mike Sherzan?” [open-ended question]

The caller did the ballot test again. After saying I was still undecided, I was pushed to state how I lean.

At this point, the questionnaire provided negative statements about Sherzan and asked whether the information would make the respondent more or less likely to vote for him.

• Mike’s business is in a lawsuit for failing to do something [neither source could remember specifics]
• Some practice for which Mike’s business got fined in 2012 [neither source could remember specifics]
• Mike is too cozy with Wall Street

Then callers heard negative statements about Mowrer and were asked whether the information made them more or less likely to support him:

• He didn’t win his last Congressional race [as the 2014 Democratic challenger to Representative Steve King in IA-04]
• One of my sources thought the call claimed Mowrer backed the Keystone XL pipeline; the other thought it referenced support for the proposed Bakken pipeline across Iowa.
• One source thought the poll accused Mowrer of privatizing the permitting functions of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. My other source thought this statement implied Mowrer wanted to get rid of the EPA and found it not credible.
• Some statement suggested Mowrer is a carpetbagger–not using that word but claiming he moved into a Congressional district where he has no connections. (Mowrer has owned a home in Des Moines since 2007 but lived primarily in Boone until last year.)
• Some statement may have suggested Mowrer took a salary to run for office or used $28,000 from his campaign funds for personal purposes. My other source remembered this part as alluding to the fact that Mowrer’s wife is a paid campaign staffer. (Many candidates and members of Congress have hired family members to do similar work.)

UPDATE: At this point, the caller said he really appreciated the time I was giving to this survey. I was tempted to say, “No, thank you for helping me fill in gaps!”

Here is the exact wording from the call I received on March 22. In my call, the negative statements about Mowrer were presented first, and I was asked if each statement raised very serious, serious, minor doubts, or no real doubts about Mowrer. (It is common for surveys to rotate the order of questions.)

“Mowrer is running for Congress for personal gain. He ran in a different district just a few years ago, now running here despite having no roots in the area. He’s used campaign funds to help himself [with a] salary and benefits. He is employing his wife as a consultant to his campaign.”

“Like conservative Republicans, Mowrer supports dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency. He proposes privatizing part of the permitting process, which means less accountability and would make it easier for corporations to dump toxins in the air and water.”

“Mowrer supports efforts to build the Bakken and Keystone XL pipelines, which would pollute Iowa’s air and water and force people from their home if their property is in its path.”

“While running for Congress, Mowrer took more than $28,000 in campaign funds for personal use. Even worse, he broke federal election laws by taking campaign cash after the election.”

These were the negative statements about Sherzan from my call:

“In 2012, Sherzan’s company had to pay more than $96,000 to a client in damages and attorney’s fees because they permitted her husband to make numerous unauthorized withdrawals from her account.”

“Sherzan will fight to protect Wall Street and other private equity traders, because that’s how he makes his money. Sherzan has made millions of dollars by wheeling and dealing, much in the same way that Wall Street investment firms have.”

“In 2014 Sherzan’s company was fined $75,000 by a financial industry regulatory authority for not adequately [or accurately, hard to hear] monitoring the money they managed for their clients.”

After reading the negative statements about Sherzan and Mowrer, the caller again asked respondents whether they supported Adams, Mowrer, or Sherzan. I would be interested to know whether a script with negative statements about Adams would be read if the respondent expressed a preference for him. [UPDATE: Another respondent confirms that even though he said he was solidly behind Adams, no negative statements were read about Adams.]

One of my sources said the survey included an open-ended question along the lines of “What do you know about Mike Sherzan?” That suggests to me that Sherzan’s campaign commissioned this poll.

One source said that near the end, respondents were asked if they attended the Iowa caucuses, and if so, which candidate they caucused for. UPDATE: Can confirm these questions were asked.

The final questions asked for basic demographic information collected in many polls: year born, respondent’s first name, race/ethnicity, if union member, if anyone in the household is a union member, and whether respondent would identify as liberal, moderate or conservative. My sources indicate that this poll did not ask about family income, a data point often included in demographic questions.

Any comments about the IA-03 race are welcome in this thread. If you have received the call and can fill in more details, please post a comment or contact me confidentially at the e-mail address near the bottom of this page.

UPDATE: Another respondent reports that he indicated strong support for Adams during this call but was read only negative statements about Sherzan and Mowrer.

  • Got the push poll twice

    I got the push poll call – once from an Idaho #, and once from a Michigan number last night, within about an hour of each other.

    • do you mean this call?

      Or a different one? This is clearly a legitimate message-testing poll and not a “push poll.” A push-poll doesn’t collect data, isn’t sampling a realistic number of respondents, and isn’t actually testing positive or negative statements–it’s just trying to spread negative information to as many people as possible (usually many thousands), typically much closer to an election day.

  • It's a Mower poll

    I just participated in this poll. The questions were the same, although the order rotated, which is what happens with most polls so the order doesn’t somehow influence the outcome. I am not a Mower supporter and was given issue statements, followed by candidate developed descriptions, followed by negatives on Sherzan, then Mower, then positives only on Mower. That’s why I say it is a Mower poll. After each type of question, the person on the phone had me rank me support for any of the three candidates.

  • New Poll?

    I Just got a poll asking me only negatives on Sherzan and Adams. Very harsh stuff. No positives on anyone. I don”t want to say it was a push-poll but it sure felt like it.

    • do you remember what they asked

      about Sherzan and Adams?

      Did they ask you for demographic information at the end (like your age, race, last level of education completed, family income, whether anyone in your household belongs to a labor union)?

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