NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, August 12th, 2022

Jim Ferrell falsely labels NPI’s Prosecuting Attorney contest research a “push poll”

Ear­li­er this month, here on The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate, we pub­lished NPI’s first poll find­ing in the 2022 King Coun­ty Pros­e­cut­ing Attor­ney contest.

We found the two con­tenders for the job ini­tial­ly tied in the sin­gle dig­its, with Leesa Man­ion jump­ing out to a sig­nif­i­cant lead over her rival Jim Fer­rell after not sure vot­ers were asked a fol­low-up ques­tion that gave them infor­ma­tion about each can­di­date sourced from the biogra­phies on their cam­paign websites.

Asked about our find­ing dur­ing an appear­ance on Jason Rantz’s right wing talk show this week, Fer­rell inex­plic­a­bly went on the attack, false­ly denounc­ing NPI’s research as “a push poll” and declar­ing him­self the vic­tim of unfair prac­tices. Here’s a tran­script of that exchange between him and Rantz:

JASON RANTZ: We’re talk­ing with Jim Far­rell. He’s the Fed­er­al Way May­or. He’s also a can­di­date for King Coun­ty Pros­e­cut­ing Attor­ney. As we turn to that con­test, we saw a recent poll by the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute… not a great poll for either you or your oppo­nent Leesa Man­ion, at least ini­tial­ly. No one knows who they’re going to vote for… Eighty-three per­cent were like, I don’t know.

JIM FERRELL: So why open?

JASON RANTZ: Right. I mean, so then they asked a fol­low up ques­tion where they basi­cal­ly said, who do you sup­port, after you read this infor­ma­tion about who they are?

And I want to read what Leesa Man­ion wrote, because, after this, she comes out ahead of you. She said — or this is how they pre­scribe her cam­paign, or describe it:

Leesa Man­ion is the cur­rent Chief of Staff of the King Coun­ty Pros­e­cut­ing Attorney’s Office, where she has spear­head­ed projects aimed at pro­tect­ing pub­lic safe­ty, reduc­ing racial dis­pro­por­tion­al­i­ty, strength­en­ing vic­tim ser­vices, and hold­ing repeat per­pe­tra­tors accountable. 

By the way, this does not mean any of this is true. That last state­ment, we know, is not nec­es­sar­i­ly true.

She also over­sees a work­force of near­ly 600 employ­ees and an annu­al bud­get of $80 million.

So once they ask that ques­tion, forty-one per­cent of those who answered said they would sup­port her, which is about dou­ble what they said for you. What’s your response to that state­ment describ­ing Leesa Manion?

JIM FERRELL: Well, this is a clas­sic push poll, um, and it clear­ly does­n’t reflect, actu­al­ly, her actu­al expe­ri­ence. And the back­ground that they put for me, you know, real­ly was not… was not suf­fi­cient… was not ful­ly… it’s a clas­sic, what they call push poll.


There’s an old adage in pol­i­tics that when you don’t like the result of some­thing, whether it be an endorse­ment vote, or, in this case, polling, you com­plain about the process. That seems to be what’s going on here with Ferrell.

We are not aligned with Leesa Man­ion’s cam­paign; we don’t endorse can­di­dates or engage in elec­tion­eer­ing for or against any can­di­date at NPI. Our elec­toral polling is inde­pen­dent, and it has a track record of being cor­re­lat­ed by actu­al elec­tion results. None of that mat­ters, appar­ent­ly, to Jim Ferrell.

Fer­rell start­ed out tied with Leesa Man­ion in our sum­mer Pros­e­cut­ing Attor­ney polling, but the “not sure” vot­ers end­ed up lik­ing Man­ion’s bio­graph­i­cal high­lights more than his in our fol­low-up ques­tion, prompt­ing him to go cry foul on right wing talk radio, and false­ly insin­u­ate — with Rantz agree­ing, nat­u­ral­ly — that the goal of our research was to harm his candidacy.

A push poll, for those read­ers not famil­iar with the term, is a “polit­i­cal dirty trick” in which neg­a­tive infor­ma­tion about a per­son or orga­ni­za­tion is cir­cu­lat­ed in the guise of a sur­vey ques­tion. The term has its own entry in Safire’s Polit­i­cal Dic­tio­nary, and we have cit­ed that def­i­n­i­tion in pre­sen­ta­tions explain­ing why Tim Eyman’s “advi­so­ry votes” are real­ly a form of pro­pa­gan­da. Here it is:

A push poll is a nefar­i­ous tele­mar­ket­ing tech­nique designed to spread neg­a­tive infor­ma­tion about an oppo­si­tion candidate.

Dur­ing the South Car­oli­na pri­ma­ry of 2000, a caller from the George W. Bush cam­paign asked 300 poten­tial voters:

John McCain calls the cam­paign finance sys­tem cor­rupt, but as chair­man of the Sen­ate Com­merce Com­mit­tee, he rais­es mon­ey and trav­els on the pri­vate jets of cor­po­ra­tions with leg­isla­tive pro­pos­als before his com­mit­tee. In view of this, are you much more like­ly to vote for him… or much more like­ly to vote against him?

A push poll is not a legit­i­mate pub­lic opin­ion sur­vey because its pur­pose is not to obtain an opin­ion but to influ­ence it, which qual­i­fies the device as a dirty trick.

— From the Dirty Tricks entry of Safire’s Polit­i­cal Dic­tio­nary, 2008 edi­tion (Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press | New York, New York)

In that excerpt above, you can see what a “clas­sic push poll” actu­al­ly looks like.  The ques­tion is obvi­ous­ly prej­u­di­cial and any answers to it would be irrel­e­vant. You can’t find out what peo­ple real­ly think when you ask a loaded question.

At NPI, we believe that bad inputs yield bad out­puts. If the ques­tion is bad, the answers will be worth­less. That’s why, in our research, we work extreme­ly hard to ask neu­tral ques­tions of rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ples. That is the key to cred­i­ble, accu­rate, trust­wor­thy pub­lic opin­ion research, espe­cial­ly elec­toral research.

For the King Coun­ty Pros­e­cut­ing Attor­ney con­test, we knew from our years of polling expe­ri­ence that a high num­ber of vot­ers were like­ly to answer that they were not sure when asked about their pref­er­ences in this race.

Accord­ing­ly, we devel­oped a fol­low-up ques­tion for not sure vot­ers which offered more infor­ma­tion. The infor­ma­tion we pro­vid­ed was sourced direct­ly from the About pages of Leesa Man­ion’s web­site and Jim Fer­rel­l’s website.

The text of our fol­low-up ques­tion was:

Here’s a short descrip­tion of the can­di­dates, excerpt­ed from the biogra­phies on their cam­paign websites.

Leesa Man­ion is the cur­rent Chief of Staff of the King Coun­ty Pros­e­cut­ing Attorney’s Office, where she has spear­head­ed projects aimed at pro­tect­ing pub­lic safe­ty, reduc­ing racial dis­pro­por­tion­al­i­ty, strength­en­ing vic­tim ser­vices, and hold­ing repeat per­pe­tra­tors account­able. She also over­sees a work­force of near­ly 600 employ­ees and an annu­al bud­get of $80 million.

Jim Fer­rell is the cur­rent May­or of Fed­er­al Way. He pre­vi­ous­ly served as a Fed­er­al Way City Coun­cilmem­ber and as a King Coun­ty Senior Deputy Pros­e­cu­tor, defend­ing vic­tims of crime and work­ing to keep our com­mu­ni­ty safe. Fer­rell began his career as a pros­e­cu­tor for the City of Ren­ton, Wash­ing­ton before mov­ing into the King Coun­ty Pros­e­cut­ing Attorney’s Office in 1998.

If you had to choose, who would you vote for?

You can see from the screen­shots below that the text was sourced from the can­di­dates’ cam­paign web­sites. Our team select­ed pas­sages to go in the poll, but we did­n’t gen­er­ate the descrip­tions. The word­ing came from the cam­paigns. It’s part of what they have put out into the pub­lic domain for vot­ers to read.

Aside from some light edit­ing, what respon­dents saw was a por­tion of how Man­ion and Fer­rell describe them­selves. Notice that no neg­a­tive state­ments were pro­vid­ed to respon­dents about either can­di­date. The excerpts shown were about of equal length. The goal was to ask a neu­tral question.

When we pub­lished these results, I made it absolute­ly clear where the infor­ma­tion shown to not sure respon­dents came from. I explained:

Since the voter’s pam­phlet state­ment for the Novem­ber gen­er­al elec­tion has not been mailed to vot­ers yet and isn’t acces­si­ble, we opt­ed to source descrip­tions of the can­di­dates from their own cam­paign web­sites, which are avail­able to voters.

This approach allowed us to pro­vide respon­dents with infor­ma­tion about the can­di­dates that is (aside from some light edit­ing) iden­ti­cal­ly word­ed to what they’d see if they went to each candidate’s web­site and read their About pages.

Jason Rantz failed to men­tion this cru­cial­ly impor­tant fact to his lis­ten­ers when read­ing from his ques­tion, and Fer­rell also failed to men­tion it. Instead, both men dis­hon­est­ly tried to insin­u­ate dur­ing their exchange that NPI had gen­er­at­ed the descrip­tions of the can­di­dates. Both of them had obvi­ous­ly read the post and seen the ques­tion as well as my expla­na­tion of how the ques­tion was devel­oped, yet they chose to with­hold this infor­ma­tion from KTTH’s listeners.

This is sad­ly what pass­es for rig­or­ous dis­course on right wing talk radio.

Notice also how, after Fer­rell starts slam­ming our research, he stum­bles, leav­ing a cri­tique half-formed, just hang­ing out there. He serves up the false “push poll” label and then tells Rantz: “The back­ground that they put for me, you know, real­ly was not… was not suf­fi­cient… was not ful­ly…” He abrupt­ly reverts at that point to call­ing our research a “push poll,” rather than fin­ish­ing his thought.

The back­ground that they put for me was not suf­fi­cient… not fully…

Not ful­ly what, May­or Ferrell?

We took part of what you (or your consultant/campaign staff) wrote about your can­di­da­cy and showed it to vot­ers. How we might have cho­sen to describe you does not mat­ter because our objec­tive was to describe you using your words, and we accom­plished that goal with the help of your website.

What about your bio­graph­i­cal excerpt was “not suf­fi­cient”? The excerpt men­tions your cur­rent posi­tion in the com­mu­ni­ty as a local elect­ed offi­cial. It men­tions your expe­ri­ence as a pros­e­cu­tor. It men­tions your work on behalf of crime vic­tims. Those are the very motifs or the­mat­ic ele­ments of your “Meet Jim” page. We read your biog­ra­phy from top to bot­tom in an effort to fair­ly excerpt from it.

If we had includ­ed crit­i­cism of your oppo­nent Leesa Man­ion — which is what you imme­di­ate­ly piv­ot­ed to talk­ing about once you were done slam­ming our research with Rantz — well, now, that would have been prej­u­di­cial and inflammatory.

Read­ers, here’s what Fer­rell said to Rantz right after his “push poll” com­ments, show­ing that his real gripe is that we did­n’t do a push poll in his favor:

JIM FERRELL: Well, this is a clas­sic push poll, um, and it clear­ly does­n’t reflect, actu­al­ly, her actu­al expe­ri­ence. And the back­ground that they put for me, you know, real­ly was not… was not suf­fi­cient… was not ful­ly… it’s a clas­sic, what they call push poll.


JIM FERRELL: Yeah, here’s the sit­u­a­tion. Most peo­ple don’t know this. Many peo­ple do not know this, but they will when this cam­paign is over. My oppo­nent has nev­er tried a crim­i­nal case. She’s run­ning to lead an office of tri­al attor­neys. Hun­dreds of pros­e­cu­tors. And she has nev­er once in that time trav­eled or tried one crim­i­nal case. I, on the oth­er hand, have tried hun­dreds of them and han­dled thou­sands of them because I was a pros­e­cu­tor for nine­teen years, a real pros­e­cu­tor in a court­room. I don’t think she’s ever tried any case.

Imag­ine if we had put the above crit­i­cism of Leesa Man­ion into our ques­tion! With­out a cor­re­spond­ing crit­i­cism of Fer­rell, it would def­i­nite­ly have been a loaded ques­tion — the very thing that we strive to avoid in each and every poll we do.

Fer­rel­l’s recent behav­ior on the cam­paign trail leaves me won­der­ing if he real­izes what juris­dic­tion he’s in and what race he’s running.

This is King Coun­ty, one of the most Demo­c­ra­t­ic and one of the most pro­gres­sive local­i­ties in the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca, where over two-thirds of vot­ers con­sid­er them­selves Democ­rats, accord­ing to our research. Where about three-fourths of vot­ers backed Joe Biden and Kamala Har­ris two years ago.

Going on right wing talk radio and trash­ing the work of one of the few pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions that does inde­pen­dent elec­toral research is a ridicu­lous, self-defeat­ing move for a pros­e­cut­ing attor­ney hope­ful in one of the most pro­gres­sive coun­ties in the coun­try. It’s an unforced error. King Coun­ty is sim­ply not a place where play­ing to the Repub­li­can base improves your like­li­hood of victory.

For­mer Coun­cilmem­ber Kathy Lam­bert found this out to her cost last year. Not rec­og­niz­ing that the dis­trict she has long rep­re­sent­ed was not Repub­li­can turf any­more, she and her cam­paign team launched vicious attack mail­ers against Demo­c­ra­t­ic chal­lenger Sarah Per­ry and her 2nd Dis­trict col­league Gir­may Zahi­lay, who is one of the best, most com­pas­sion­ate, most ener­getic, kind­est peo­ple in local pol­i­tics. The mail­ers had the effect of out­ing Lam­bert as a right wing Trump Repub­li­can to vot­ers. It was as if Lam­bert had bought the tallest pos­si­ble flag­pole and run a mas­sive Trump flag up the pole for every­one, every­where to see.

Those mail­ers were the death knell for Lam­bert’s cam­paign. After she ini­tial­ly refused to apol­o­gize or acknowl­edge wrong­do­ing, the Seat­tle Times un-endorsed her and backed Per­ry. The Real­tors dumped her. The Mariners apol­o­gized for giv­ing her mon­ey and made a dona­tion to Per­ry. Lam­bert was also forced to give up her com­mit­tee lead­er­ship posi­tions on the Coun­cil. She then hand­i­ly lost the elec­tion to Per­ry and uncer­e­mo­ni­ous­ly depart­ed office a few weeks lat­er.

Our polling shows that Fer­rell and Man­ion start out this race tied, with over eight in ten vot­ers not sure. Fer­rell could have read the find­ing and said to his team, You know what? We have a real oppor­tu­ni­ty here. This race is wide open, and this research is evi­dence of that. It is unlike­ly that any­one else will pub­licly poll this race. We should reach out to NPI, get cof­fee, find out as much as we can. 

But instead, Fer­rell went on The Jason Rantz Show and indulged in Trumpian rhetoric with a man who dis­trib­utes right wing pro­pa­gan­da for a liv­ing… a whole week after the Top Two elec­tion results demon­strat­ed that there is no red tsuna­mi wash­ing through Wash­ing­ton, as Repub­li­cans have been gid­di­ly expect­ing.

I don’t own a work­ing crys­tal ball, so I can’t tell you how the 2022 King Coun­ty Pros­e­cut­ing Attor­ney con­test will turn out. This I do know: Most vot­ers in King Coun­ty are look­ing for eth­i­cal, effec­tive, pro­gres­sive rep­re­sen­ta­tion, not irre­spon­si­ble can­di­dates who yuk it up with the likes of Jason Rantz on KTTH.

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