Criticism, dismissal of polls in Albany mayor's race

ALBANY, N.Y. — Calling it a "flawed test," mayoral candidate Carolyn McLaughlin ripped a recent Spectrum News / Siena College poll that showed her lagging far behind her opponents in the Democratic primary.

McLaughlin, who harnessed the support of just 13 percent of poll respondents, said at a campaign event Monday that she could not be sure the poll was accurate if she could not see the zip codes that were called for surveys. The poll was conducted over a three-day period between September 5-7, and surveyed 500 likely Democrat voters in the Albany Democratic primary.

A previous poll in August, also sponsored by Spectrum News, returned the same 13 percent result for McLaughlin.

"Did they call 12202? 12210?" McLaughlin questioned, rattling off several zip codes that encompass Albany's poorest neighborhoods. "Did they call anybody? Because I have yet to find somebody who got that phone call."

Siena Research Institute spokesman Steve Greenberg said Monday that such data could only be released at the discretion of Spectrum News, which paid for the polling data. (A single caller who discussed polling data with Spectrum News during the past week did not identify themselves by name, nor as a representative of the McLaughlin campaign, and did not specifically ask for such data to be released.)

County legislator Wanda Willingham, a supporter of McLaughlin's, said on Monday that she had discussed polling data with Siena College and Spectrum News, but was dissastisfied with the polling methods.

"I wanted to know who they considered a ‘likely primary voter.’ And they volunteered that they used people who’ve never voted ... they also told me that they used four general elections [to certify past voting activity]," Willingham said of the discussions. "So when they only used the 2013 primary election in their sampling, and then all the rest of their data was based upon four general elections after that, I said to them, ‘Your information is skewed.’ They did not deny that it wasn’t."

Greenberg dismissed the claims of unfairness Monday.

“The polls each placed phone calls to a sample of respondents registered as Democrats, who were targeted based on their history of voting in elections in Albany over the last four years," Greenberg said in a statement. "Additionally, a series of questions were asked within those polls, specifically to determine the respondents’ likelihood of voting in this primary.”

But even the incumbent mayor and outright leader in the Sunday poll was hesitant to embrace its result.

"It really isn't a good idea to rely on any particular poll," said mayor Kathy Sheehan, who led the Siena poll with 51 percent of likely voters planning to favor her on the ballot.

"The momentum we have has resulted in our seeing a lot of really positive responses," said Sheehan, "but we still want to get people to the polls. We want to make sure that we finish strong."

Challenger Frank Commisso, Jr., spent Monday at his campaign headquarters and said his poll results weren't fazing him or his volunteers. Commisso garnered 26 percent of likely voters' support in the poll.

"You can have a poll that comes out, and that's all fine. But we feel really confident about being able to get those voters," he said.

Commisso implied Monday that some poll respondents might have felt pressured to support Sheehan under fear that their poll responses could be seen by the incumbent or siomehow made public.

"[In the primary], people have a secret ballot," he said. "They don't have a mayor or county executive looking over their shoulder, at who they're voting for. They don't have to say certain things. We feel good about those voters' outcome."

Voting locations in Albany open at noon on Tuesday, and will remain open until 9 p.m.

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