Pollster defends Supreme Court findings

By John O'Brien | Sep 16, 2008

CHARLESTON - The company that's recent poll was criticized by a state Supreme Court candidate said Tuesday that its methodology closer resembled the coming election.

Mark Blankenship, owner of Mark Blankenship Enterprises, defended his poll, which showed Democrat Menis Ketchum in a close race with Republican Beth Walker for the second open spot on the Court. Both polls show Democrat Margaret Workman, a former justice, well ahead of the other two.

But the other poll, performed by Anzalone Liszt Research, asked those conducted to choose two of the three. Blankenship says the ballot will allow voters to choose two, but not require it.

"In essence, they're showing a response rate of 200 percent in that election," Blankenship said. "If you go back and look at the previous elections, like 2000 when there were three candidates and two spots open, you'll see there was about 145 percent votes cast.

"That means more people voted for one person than voted for two people."

Blankenship's poll showed a 2-percent lead for Ketchum over Walker, while the Anzalone Liszt poll indicated a 13-percent lead for Ketchum.

"I think the way that we asked that question is a good snapshot, in terms of what happens in the voting booth," Blankenship said.

"I'm not necessarily saying what they did is wrong, if it is the wrong methodology or not. You can get value, from a political standpoint, and get strengths and weaknesses from a follow-up question. But it is essentially two different questions."

Ketchum pointed out that when Blankenship asked participants to choose a second justice, 63 percent of the 62 respondents chose Ketchum, while 18 percent picked Walker.

The total amount of votes is reflected in the numbers released, Blankenship said.

"I feel good about this campaign," Ketchum, a Huntington lawyer, said when the Alzalone poll was released. "And I'm working as hard as I can to let people know what's at stake. We have a chance to restore fairness, balance and integrity to our Supreme Court."

Blankenship said he did not conduct his poll on behalf of any party or campaign. He said it was merely "a snapshot of public opinion" he could distribute to the media to promote his company.

"The actual question is a very close representation of what the ballot will say in November," Blankenship said. "We don't force respondents to make a second choice but allow and indicate that they can choose up to two candidates."

Should Walker and Workman both prevail, there will be more females than males on the Court. Justice Robin Davis was elected in 1996 and re-elected in 2000.

Current Chief Justice Spike Maynard fell in the Democratic primary, and Justice Larry Starcher decided not to seek re-election.

Justice Brent Benjamin is the only Republican currently on the Court.

Blankenship said his firm may conduct other polls before November's elections. Other races he is following include the Presidential campaign and the state attorney general race between Democrat Darrell McGraw and Republican Dan Greear.

Ketchum and Workman are Democrats, and Walker, a Charleston lawyer, is a Republican. Workman received support from 57 percent of the 600 registered voters in the Alzalone poll, and Ketchum received 48 percent. Thirty-five percent voted for Walker.

In Blankenship's poll, Ketchum received 23 percent of votes, with Walker getting 21. Twenty-eight percent said they were undecided, and 42 percent chose Workman.

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