Competing poll results released this week show U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan with large leads over his Democratic challenger Keith Fitzgerald. But what the numbers really mean depends on who is doing the spinning.
Several news outlets Wednesday reported on a memo from Republican pollster Public Opinion Strategies showing Buchanan with a 58 percent to 36 percent lead over Fitzgerald. The poll was conducted in March.
"Congressman Buchanan's brand is strong — he is a good ideological match for the district and despite the anti-Congress political environment, he is viewed favorably by likely voters," pollster Glen Bolger wrote in a polling memo, quoted by The Hill.
In turn, Fitzgerald's campaign released a memo from campaign manager Adam Scott detailing results of a February poll conducted by SEA Polling showing Buchanan with smaller lead, 49 percent to 38 percent.
Scott wrote that the fact the Buchanan is polling at less than 50 percent shows that he is "extremely vulnerable." Buchanan's weakness, according to Scott, is because of questions raised about his ethics during investigations by the Federal Elections Commission, the Office of Congressional Ethics and other agencies.
Scott also noted Buchanan loaned his campaign $250,000 a week after conducting his poll.
The Fitzgerald memo also included results of a separate poll showing that the percentage of voters who view Buchanan "favorably" declined from 53 percent in August to 44 percent in Feburary; and view of his "job performance" dropped from 59 percent positive in August to 52 percent positive in February.
"Since the initial assessment poll in August, Vern Buchanan’s favorability and job approval have seen double-digit erosion," Scott wrote. "In the months between the polls, the FEC found that Buchanan 'more likely than not' violated campaign finance laws and provided inaccurate and inconsistent testimony to federal investigators, and the office of Congressional Ethics found there is 'substantial reason to believe' that Buchanan violated federal law by failing to disclose income from his businesses."
Buchanan supporter Joe Gruters, the chairman of the Sarasota County Republican Party, countered with a press release stating that the numbers show Buchanan is "safe." He also passed along results of a poll, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies at the same point in the 2008 campaign, that showed Buchanan with a 53-37 lead over then-Democratic challenger Christine Jennings.
Buchanan went on to win by a 56-37 margin.