- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2006

On any spring weekend, Bernard Demczuk could be tending to the petunias in his urban garden, playing baseball with his 8-year-old son, Che, or working on his dissertation about black American history on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

However, the longtime D.C. political observer and operative gladly spends his weekends shopping local supermarkets searching for potential poll takers instead of fresh produce.

The picked and prodded yield fodder for Mr. Demczuk’s sixth “Mayoral Election Cycle Supermarket Poll,” which he has conducted in every ward during every mayoral primary season since 1986.

“I like to get an intimate view of the voting mentality all over the city, and this gives me an opportunity to engage young people in the political process,” Mr. Demczuk said.

This year’s “Hot Fun in the Summertime” campaign predictions: The acknowledged Democratic front-runners for the mayoral nomination, D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp and Ward 4 council member Adrian M. Fenty, are in a statistical standoff.

Mr. Demczuk gives his latest poll a three-point margin of error, with the average number of “undecideds” at 25 percent.

It’s no surprise that his data show the mayoral race tightening, with Mrs. Cropp getting 38 percent of the support and Mr. Fenty 41 percent.

Somewhat surprisingly, however, lobbyist Michael A. Brown comes in a distant third. Still, Mr. Brown, Ward 5 council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. and former Verizon executive Marie C. Johns were all in single digits.

A modern-day Renaissance man in his late 50s known for the political soirees and artsy salons he throws (that I have had the pleasure of attending for many years) in his well-appointed home and garden on French Street Northwest, Mr. Demczuk says he is not carrying any candidate’s water at this juncture.

“The poll is used strictly for educational and informational purposes only and not for partisan politics,” he said. “These survey results are only valid for the spring of 2006. Over five months remain in the campaign season. Anything is possible.”

According to his poll, the race for council chairman to replace Mrs. Cropp also portends to be a nail-biter.

“Too close to call,” Mr. Demczuk writes in the empirical analysis of his polling data, pitting Ward 7 council member Vincent Gray against Ward 3 council member Kathy Patterson. Whites predictably favor Mrs. Patterson and blacks Mr. Gray, but both “get a healthy share of racial crossover votes.”

In the at-large council race, which barely makes a blip on most folks’ radar screens given the 54 percent of undecided voters in the poll for this seat, incumbent Democrat Phil Mendelson “has a comfortable lead” over lawyer and former Democratic State Committee Chairman A. Scott Bolden.

But I wouldn’t count the tireless and tenacious “A. Scott,” out of the game just yet. In fact, Mr. Demczuk says, “Bolden is relatively unknown but clearly making inroads in voters’ consciousness.”

Mr. Demczuk said his up-close-and-personal polls yield much better results than those high-priced telephone polls costing upward of $22,000 and conducted by invisible surveyors. First, his “don’t cost a dime.” Then, the face-to-face talks with voters provide a truer picture of their answers, accompanied with body language, facial expressions, eye contact and intonation. The difference is akin to purchasing peaches on www.Peapod.com or picking them at a roadside stand.

“It’s just shoe leather, it’s fun, and it just takes time standing in the sun on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon,” he said of his pet project.

Now, Mr. Demczuk enlists the help of political science students at George Washington University, where he is the assistant vice president of the Office of Government, International and Corporate Affairs. He also volunteers to teach a course, “African-American History and Culture,” at the District’s School Without Walls in Georgetown.

From mid-April to May 6, he surveyed 625 voters at 25 sites where people were pressed to choose a candidate as “if the election were held today.” For diversity and consistency, 25 voters are tabulated at each site, which included the Big Chair in Anacostia, Eastern Market on Capitol Hill, Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street Northwest, Balducci’s in American University Park and the Brentwood Giant Food in Northeast.

This year’s “pre-pre-primary poll” was taken before Mayor Anthony A. Williams endorsed Mrs. Cropp. (A nebulous endorsement, by the way, which will cut both ways.) “Anger at Mayor Williams in the black neighborhoods is quite high and heated,” Mr. Demczuk reports. “Whites are generally pleased with the city and its government.” The good news: “Overwhelmingly, however, black and white voters want good government and accountable leaders regardless of race.”

If you’re wondering how accurate his Supermarket Poll is, well, Doppler radar has a worse track record. “I’m accurate; I’ve got 20 years of history for not being wrong,” Mr. Demczuk said. For example, he predicted that Mr. Williams would beat then-council member Kevin P. Chavous by 18 percentage points. The actual spread in the September 1998 primary was 17 points.

Mr. Demczuk’s latest data has been received well enough that he now plans to add a midsummer poll before his customary charting at the end of August.

“I like to be on the street and hear the language,” he said.

Hey, I’d rather spend my weekends digging in my garden dirt or stretched out on an Outer Banks beach. So, my sun bonnet is off to political junkies such as Bernard Demczuk who provide a valuable service to D.C. residents and students simply for the fun of it.


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