Thursday, February 7, 2002



Posted By on Thu, Feb 7, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Though he likes to specialize in business and marketing research, Memphis pollster Berge Yacoubian has had his share of name political clients -- Bob Clement, Robin Beard, Mike Cody, Otis Higgs come to mind -- and if it seems to have worked out that he’s had more underdogs than not, that’s how he likes it. Republican Beard defied the odds and unseated a congressional incumbent in 1972, then was able to survive the Democratic landslide during the Watergate year of 1974. No longer advised by Yacoubian, he lost a Senate bid in 1982 against then incumbent Jim Sasser. Part of the problem, thinks Yacoubian, was that Beard overlooked issues in favor of negative attack ads that backfired. In fact, he sees part of his job as helping candidates prepare not only for election but for what comes next if all goes well. "Unlike other consultants, whom I will not name, I do not want to elect someone who can't govern," he says. Nor does he want his advisees to make nice, especially. "Some candidates want to be so loved they can't act ," he says disdainfully. Yacoubian says he prefers to leave the spotlight to his candidates, the most prominent of whom at the moment is State Representative Carol Chumney. Of all the candidates for mayor, Chumney is probably the most direct in pressing specific issues. And, despite being told frequently by friend and foe alike that she has little chance of being elected and should consider switching to another race while she can, Chumney resolutely declines to do so A look at a survey done by Yacoubian in October provides some insight into both these circumstances. The most overwhelmingly approved three issues noted by Yacoubian in a table entitled "What Voters Want" are: (1) the passage of "laws to toughen standards for daycare center operators" (92 percent of all potential voters sampled approving it; 89 percent of Democats); (2) "new funding system for public schools" (89 percent of all voters and 88 percent of Democrats): and (3) "support full consolidation" (78 percent of all voters, 81 percent of Democrats). Chumney, of course, is the principal sponsor of legislation to tighten daycare standards, and she has made frequent mention during her current campaign of the school funding issue while pushing consolidation relentlessly. If Yacoubian is correct, Chumney may not be risking as much by being explicit as her opponents are in responding more indirectly. In any case, Yacoubian says candidly, it's the best antidote to what he sees as a bandwagon strategy underway on A C Wharton's behalf. The poll, taken at that point last fall when Wharton was announcing his mayoral candidacy, reflects a sense that the Shelby County Public Defender ought indeed to be regarded as the frontrunner in Democratic ranks. In Yacoubian's reckoning, Wharton was first choice of Democrats polled -- by 37 percent to Chumney's 27 percent, 7 percent for State Senator Jim Kyle, who has since withdrawn from the face and endorsed Wharton; and 6 percent for Bartlett banker Harold Byrd. Interestingly, Byrd rises to a close second place among independents polled by Yacoubian, with 23 percent to Wharton's 25 percent. Chumney's figure was 18 percent, and Kyle's was 12 percent. Meanwhile, another aspect of Yacoubian's poll shows voter approval of previous job performance to be higher for Chumney than for any of her Democratic opponents. In short, Yacobian's poll figures suggest that Chumney may not be so out of it -- among Democrats, anyway -- as conventional wisdom has it, and they provide a basis for her seeing Byrd as a rival claimant to runnerup status and, therefore, as a nemesis to be taken on directly. In any case, Chumney did just that -- as recently as the weekend, when she called a press conference to protest the fact that Byrd was allowed to lease campaign headquarters on Poplar Avenue that she had been denied a lease for previously. The property's owner, Stanley 'Trip' Trezevant, who supports Byrd, responded by saying he saw no issue involved, but Chumney indicated she would begin a process, both locally and in Nashville, of instituting anti-discrimination complaints. Yacoubian's October poll seems to forecast a greater degree of participation by women than of men in this year's elections, and Chumney said Saturday she thought the figure for women would be as high as 65 percent -- yet another reason why she thinks her chances shouldn't be discounted (and a possible reason, too, for her pushing the discrimination hot-button). Granted, Chumney has raised relatively little money compared to opponents Wharton and Byrd, but she regards this as the consequence of her chances being discounted so consistently in public opinion -- the anecdotal kind, that is. She thinks the scientific species -- as in pulse-takings by Berge Yacoubian -- tell a different story.


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