It's hard to tell what's going to happen next Tuesday in the mayor's race. The Journal's page one story today cites a Nielsen Brothers Poll which states that Sam Kooiker has a narrow lead over incumbent Alan Hanks.
That part wasn't too difficult to figure out. Hanks has been polling, but hasn't been sharing the results of those polls. And, why should he?
Hanks says he's unconcerned about the Neilson Brothers poll. I doubt that. Even though the pollsters got the recent governor's race WAY wrong, the numbers in the mayoral race should concern Hanks, and here's why:
1. Kooiker 32%
2. Hanks 29%
3. Weifenbach 18%
4. Wernicke 4%
5. UNDECIDED 17%
With a 5.5 percent margin of error, the average guy, I think, is going to think the mayor is in trouble. Not including the undecideds (we'll touch on them later), 54 percent of those polled think someone other than Alan should be mayor.
Again, we're assuming the poll numbers are accurate (which I doubt), but as an exercise let's look at the other two candidates.
If I'm Ron Weifenbach (and I'm not), I would believe it would be in my best interest to endorse Kooiker, should the runoff come as predicted. Not every one of Weifenbach's supporters will support Kooiker, but I predict that most of them will. And I believe they are motivated voters who will turn out for a runoff election.
Ninety percent of Wernicke's supporters will vote for Kooiker in a runoff. And, most of them will be motivated to vote in the runoff.
It would be silly to assume that Hanks gets every one of the undecideds. It would be reasonable, if one believed the poll, that they would break out about the same. 51 of the 300 polled were undecided. If they break out as the rest of the poll indicates, Hanks picks up 15 votes in the general election. Kooiker gets 16 in the general. That math doesn't work for Hanks.
At only 29 percent, voters should be prepared for another "wing-nut-style" dirty brochure to land in their mailboxes, right before election day. I doubt the Journal will allow Deb Hadcock to write another false and misleading forum piece for the Saturday prior to the election, as they did the last time Hanks found himself in a runoff with Kooiker.
No matter how accurate the poll, 29 percent should not be comforting for the incumbent.
meaning Hanks only picks up another 4.93 percent, while Kooiker picks up another 5.4 percent
Mayor Alan Hanks and Ward 2 Alderman Sam Kooiker appear to be neck and neck going into the final weekend before Tuesday's mayoral election, a Sioux Falls-based polling group said Friday.
Nielson Brothers Polling surveyed more than 300 voters in Rapid City over two days last week, and among respondents, Kooiker had the support of 32 percent and Hanks 29 percent. Ward 1 Alderman Ron Weifenbach received 18 percent support from respondents, and small-business owner Peter Wernicke was the favored by 4 percent. Seventeen percent were undecided.
The results fall within the poll's margin of error of 5.5 percent, but Paul Nielson, a partner in the polling group, said that a runoff is almost certain, in part because of the level of support for Weifenbach.
"It doesn't look like 50 percent of the vote is going to go to anyone," Nielson said. "Our assumption is there will be a runoff, and the runoff will be between Hanks and Kooiker." Any runoff would be between the top two vote-getters if no candidate gets more than 50 percent.
The four candidates, though, did not put much weight in the poll results on Friday.
"The only poll that counts is on Election Day," said Kooiker, the poll's apparent frontrunner. "With the low voter turnout we've seen in the past, it's hard to predict."
Kooiker said he plans to spend the final weekend of the campaign on the streets "running like I'm 100 points behind."
"Elections are won in the hearts of people. It's not money or advertising or mailers that make the difference. It's contacting voters and explaining the vision," Kooiker said. "That's what I've been doing."
Hanks, for his part, agreed that there is a good chance for a runoff but dismissed the poll's overall results, saying the "robocalls" used by Nielson Brothers are an unreliable method for gauging support in the community.
"If they're like me, I hang up on them," Hanks said.
His campaign has done its own polling, and although he would not release the results, he said, "I'm very comfortable that I will show very well at the polls."
"Most people don't feel a margin of error of 5.5 percent is a credible poll. It will give you indications, but that's about all it will give you," Hanks said.
Weifenbach also said he didn't care about the results of any poll, especially one that is already a week old. He plans to spend the weekend meeting with voters and has a sent out a mailer that emphasizes his qualifications for the job.
"I'm not going to tear anyone else down or hide behind someone else's masquerade," Weifenbach said, alluding to negative third-party advertisements that have gone out in some races. "If you're going to be disrespectful like that, put your name on it. I challenge you to."
Because of the other candidates' name recognition, Wernicke was not surprised by his showing in the poll but at the same time, he said, he never puts much faith in polls.
"There's really at this point not much more that can be done," Wernicke said of last-minute campaigning. "If people haven't researched it or heard what I had to say, it's like, well, OK. There's not much more you can do."
Poll respondents were also asked for their opinions of Hanks and Kooiker, and although Kooiker led the overall poll, he had fewer people respond favorably to him than did Hanks.
According to the poll, among respondents, Hanks had a 44 percent favorable response and a 33 percent unfavorable response. Kooiker, in comparison, had a 37 percent favorable response to 39 percent unfavorable.
Nielson Brothers is relatively new to the polling scene in South Dakota, releasing its first survey in 2010 for the governor and U.S. House races.
Those results accurately showed a tight between Kristi Noem and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin for U.S. House, but their initial predictions in the governor's race -- 43 percent for Dennis Daugaard and 40 percent for Scott Heidepriem -- did not play out. Daugaard won with 61 percent of the vote.
The Rapid City survey is the company's first city-specific poll, Nielson said.