The only known scientific poll conducted during the 2021 Anchorage mayoral race had former pilot and assembly candidate Dave Bronson well ahead of longtime businessman and media mogul Mike Robbins in the race to be the conservative representative in the May 11 runoff election.
That Change Research poll found progressive candidate Forrest Dunbar topping the pack of a dozen candidates with 23 percent of the vote, with Bronson just two points back at 21 percent, putting Bronson up by 12 percentage points on Robbins, well outside of the margin of error.
According to election rules, unless one candidate reaches 45 percent of the overall vote in the April 6 mail-in election, the top two candidates advance to a runoff election May 11.
But a poll released late last week by the Robbins campaign contends that Robbins has not only been ahead of Bronson since the start of the year among Republican voters, his lead has only grown since.
“It doesn’t take a lot of science,” Robbins said. “We 35,000 cell numbers from a huge database of registered Republicans and sent out texts to likely voters — those who’ve voted in 4 of the last 5 elections.”
Robbins explained that through an application called texttowin.us, recipients received a text message from a toll-free number with all 12 candidates listed and each had 24 hours to reply with their choice. No matter how many times one recipient responded, only one vote would count per device.
The results showed that when the poll was conducted on Jan. 21, 35% favored Robbins, 24% favored Bronson, 3% favored Bill Evans and 31% were undecided. By the Feb. 26 poll, Robbins lead had grown to 39-21-5-29, and in the most recent results from the March 8 text, Robbins shared had swelled to 46 percent, while Bronson dropped to 17, Evans held steady at 5 and undecideds inched down to 27 percent.
The poll claims a response rate of 6.3 percent, a rate which Robbins said increased almost two-fold between the first blast and the most recent.
Mass texting is not generally considered an acceptable form of scientific polling, and not everyone is buying Robbins’ data, including Louisiana-based blogger and Must Read Alaska contributor Dan Fagan, a Bronson supporter, who posted about the poll on Facebook: “Back in 2005, the people running the John Brinkley campaign for governor released a poll two weeks before the primary. It showed Binkley with a solid lead over Sarah Palin. It was clear at the time the Binkley camp was attempting to stir up momentum. We all knew the poll wasn't real and saw it for the stunt it clearly was. I suspect this poll released by the Mike Robbins campaign has the same purpose.”
Fudging poll numbers to change the narrative about a campaign is a political trick as old as democracy itself, and given Robbins’ background in radio he knows how to run a carnival act, but leaving the numbers aside, two factors in the slope of the Robbins poll shows are consistent with generally accepted conventional wisdom about the race.
One is that some conservatives have been shy to back the hard-right Bronson because despite the volume and energy of his base, that base has a very firm and low ceiling and in a runoff election against the two-term assembly member Dunbar, he’d get blown out of the water.
The more interesting slope to note is how Bronson’s decline in support, according to the poll, coincides with the city’s mostly positive recovery from Coronavirus shutdowns since the start of February.
Much of Bronson’s momentum was gathered in the especially contentious months of October, November and December when businesses were shuttered and constrained and anti-mask groups like Save Anchorage considered Bronson their champion in the race.
Over the last two months, though, that fury has waned substantially, and Robbins said there were trends in the issue polling he’s been doing since September that might indicate a healthy Covid recovery wasn’t what the doctor ordered for Bronson’s political aspirations.
“In the first poll, the No. 1 thing was lockdowns and No. 2 was homelessness, but as we got into November lockdowns dropped to No. 2 and crime was No. 1,” Robbins said. “In December the economy was No. 1 and that’s been the case straight through January and February.”
Robbins is also confident he can get past Bronson in the April 6 semifinals and into the runoff against Dunbar because he’ll be able to peel off more Democrat and independent moderate voters.
“Our internal polls are showing that Dave’s hitting head on the ceiling at 17 to 18 percent of Republicans, which is where it’s at now,” Robbins said. “His Republican numbers are going down and it’s hard to believe his Democrat numbers are going up.”