I was pretty blasé about a recent poll that the Joe McDermott campaign boasted about in an email to supporters; King County council member and former West Seattle state legislator Joe McDermott is running for U.S. congressman Jim McDermott’s (no relation) open seat. Veteran liberal Jim McDermott (D-WA, 7) is retiring after first being elected to congress in 1988.
Joe McDermott’s polling said he was 26 points ahead of his nearest competitor. McDermott is running against state senator Pramila Jayapal (D-37, Southeast Seattle) and state representative Brady Walkinshaw (D-43, Capitol Hill). Joe McDermott’s poll had Joe McDermott at 35 percent, Jayapal at 9 percent, and Walkinshaw at 7 percent.
Part of my shrug had to do with the fact that the numbers were coming from McDermott’s camp; though, the pollsters, EMC, are super reputable. (They interviewed 302 people for this poll, they say.) The bigger shrug, however, had to do with the fact that Joe has the same last name as Jim. In fact, that’s what Walkinshaw’s camp said when I ran the numbers by them. Jayapal’s campaign didn’t have a comment.
But EMC, well aware that the dismissive rap on Joe is that he’d be nowhere if his name wasn’t McDermott, has since pointed to some other findings in the poll that challenge the idea that voters are simply confusing Joe for Jim.
(Before I get to that…I would say this about dismissing Joe McDermott on the grounds that voters are confused: So what? The August primary is right around the corner and 26 points is 26 points.)
More tangibly, here’s what the poll found to dispute the McDermott confusion storyline.
Joe McDermott’s name ID, favorable rating, and vote lead are highest in the areas of Jim McDermott's 7th U.S. Congressional District that overlap with Joe McDermott’s current West Seattle King County Council District and his former West Seattle legislative District. Certainly, that makes sense, but it wouldn’t make sense if people simply thought he was Jim McDermott. As a control on that assumption: Jim McDermott’s favorable rating is the same across the congressional district without any jump in Joe McDermott’s home base.
For example, as opposed to having a 26-point lead district wide over Jayapal (according the McDermott’s poll), he has a 40 point lead in his current county council district and a 45 point lead in his former state legislative district. The fact that Joe McDermott’s numbers spike in his own district indicate that people don’t think he’s the U.S. congressman with the same last name.
The poll, in fact, tested how familiar voters were with Jim McDermott—and found that 92 percent of voters knew who he was. At the same time, the poll found that 68 percent of voters knew who Joe McDermott was. If voters thought they were the same person, there wouldn’t be that type of discrepancy.
Joe McDermott is also winning against his opponents, according to the poll, among the rare (one in five voters) who didn’t know or couldn’t rate Jim McDermott. This batch—only 54 voters—isn’t a great test group, but the score among that group, for what it’s worth, was Joe McDermott 24, Jayapal 8, and Walkinshaw 1.
Ultimately, the confusion theory rests on the idea that once voters figure out Joe is Joe and Joe isn’t Jim, Joe’s numbers will drop. However, EMC points out that at the end of the poll—after they’d cycled through all the questions that made it clear Joe and Jim were different people—they read favorable descriptions of all the candidates and did a head to head again. Everybody’s score went up slightly, with Joe nudging up from 35 percent of the vote at the start of the poll to 40 percent. (Jayapal picked up two points, going from 9 to 11, and Walkinshaw went from 7 to 14.)
"If voters were somehow confused," EMC pollster Andrew Thibault says, "then they would have moved away from Joe, but instead he gets stronger."
EMC also says 70 percent of voters had never heard of Jayapal and 74 percent of voters had never heard of Walkinshaw. It's apparently, the reverse for Joe McDermott; EMC says just 32 percent of voters polled have never heard of him. Only 8 percent, 24 people, had never heard of Jim McDermott.