Two polls were recently conducted in the 31st Congressional District. The incumbent, Rep. Gary Miller, R-Rancho Cucamonga, finished first in one. The other poll showed Miller would lose to a Democratic challenger.
But political science professors caution against putting too much faith in surveys performed a year before elections.
The district — stretching from Upland to Redlands — is expected to have one of the tightest races in the 2014 midterm election. Political parties and operatives likely will spend wads of cash on the campaign.
To get a handle on how the race will play out, about a dozen businessmen interested in federal contracting paid ePolitical USA to conduct a poll of district voters, according to founder Tony Inocentes, who did not reveal the businessmen’s party affiliation or other specifics.
Twenty-eight-percent chose Miller. The rest chose Democrats or said they hadn’t decided.
Former Rep. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino, received the second most votes at 20 percent. Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, also a Democrat, followed with 9 percent. Democrat Danny Tillman, a San Bernardino school board member, got 7 percent. Six percent said they would vote for Colton attorney Eloise Gomez Reyes, another Democrat.
The remaining 26 percent were undecided, a surprise to Inocentes.
A year before the election it’s normally “at least 50 percent” undecided, Inocentes said.
Another poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling, quizzed 664 district voters last week. Multiple outletsreported MoveOn.org, a Democratic Political Action Committee, funded the poll. Neither could be immediately reached for comment.
“If the election for Congress were held today, would you vote to reelect Republican Gary Miller, or would you vote for his Democratic opponent?” the poll asked.
Nearly half — 48 percent — said they would vote for the Democrat. Thirty-nine percent said Miller, and the remaining 13 percent were “not sure.”
On the surface, it appears the two polls generated different results.
One showed a Republican winning; the other forecast a Democratic victory. But that is not entirely the case.
The ePolitical poll is more reflective of the primary election, where the top two vote-getters, no matter what party, go onto the general election. The Public Policy Polling poll is more hypothetical for the general election.
“They validated our poll,” ePolitical’s Inocentes said of Public Policy Polling’s poll.
Here’s his reasoning:
In June, voters of all parties will vote for one of the five candidates in the primary election. If ePolitical USA’s poll is accurate, Miller and Baca will advance.
Then, Inocentes said, many of the people who voted for a Democrat other than Baca in the primary would likely support Baca as the lone Democrat in the general election, leading to a Democratic victory, as the Public Policy Polling poll suggests.
But it’s not that simple, according to political scientist Jack Pitney of Claremont McKenna College.
“It depends on who shows up,” he said. “You don’t really know more than a year in advance who’s actually going to vote in November 2014.”
By then, campaign ads, news stories and other events will have occurred, which could greatly affect both the primary and general elections, according to Marcia Godwin, public administration professor at the University of La Verne.
“It’s early on, but both of those polls are fairly close to generic partisanship in the district,” she added, noting that President Barack Obama won the district last year with 57 percent of the vote.
The two polls “are consistent in showing that it’s not a slam dunk for Miller,” Pitney said.