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Poll shows slight gain for West

Thu., Dec. 1, 2005

Spokane Mayor Jim West may be picking up some support among the city’s voters as the final day for the recall election approaches, a new poll shows. But he still faces ouster without a dramatic shift in voter opinions in the next week.

That’s the indication from a new poll conducted this week for The Spokesman-Review and KREM 2 News, which asked 1,102 likely city voters how they planned to mark their ballots in the historic recall election.

The number who said they’ll vote against the recall has increased from two previous polls, to the point where 38 percent now say they’ll vote to keep West as mayor.

A majority – 58 percent of all city voters polled – said they plan to vote in favor of the recall, down slightly from similar polls conducted in late October and mid-November. Only one voter in 25 polled this week was unsure how he or she was going to vote.

“He’s gaining, but he’s not anywhere near 50 percent” opposed to the recall, said Del Ali, the president of Research 2000 of Olney, Md., which conducted the poll. Even if all of the undecided voters decide to oppose the recall, it wouldn’t be enough to keep him in office.

The recall proposal, which asks voters whether they want to remove West for using his office “for personal benefit,” needs a simple majority to pass. West will remain mayor if a majority agrees with his statement that he did not use his office for personal gain and that the city has improved since he took office.

West, who has said in the past that the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day, could not be reached for comment.

The poll was conducted using statistically valid surveying methods, but like all polls of this nature does not predict the outcome of the election. Instead, it presents a snapshot of the electorate at this time, Ali said.

One problem for West that the poll underscores is the nature of the special all-mail election, a first for the city of Spokane. All city voters were sent their ballots in mid-November, and can mail them back any time through Dec. 6. On that day voters also will be able to bring their ballots to one of three “drop-off” sites in the city.

The ballots being returned to the Spokane County Elections Office, and the voters contacted in the survey, show that there will be fewer voters who can change their minds as each day passes.

Just over half of the voters contacted by pollsters between Sunday and Tuesday night said they have already mailed their ballots. That closely matches ballot counts reported by the Elections Office, which Wednesday afternoon reported it had received 59,591 ballots, or nearly 54 percent of the total sent out.

The poll also suggests it may be hard to convince voters to change their minds, although that may have been a plus for West in late November, Ali said.

The mayor suffered some political setbacks in the last two weeks – the city’s private investigator said West violated state law and city policies, and a Superior Court judge said sexually explicit photos on his computer were part of the public record. But only about one voter in 10 said they’d read or seen anything in the last two weeks that’s changed their mind on the recall.

“I’m surprised that with the news coming out before we started polling … that the (recall support) numbers didn’t go to two-thirds,” Ali said. “It tells me that people had made up their minds early, and that (news) wasn’t a bombshell against him.”

West has been a political leader in Spokane for nearly a quarter-century, and some people who have voted for him for years may be willing to “give him the benefit of the doubt” on the allegations that led to the recall, the pollster said. Some may feel that West’s alleged misuse of his city-owned computer or his offering of city positions or gifts to young men was a private matter, or that the newspaper’s coverage of those allegations is unfair.

But the majority still is supporting the recall, and “there’s been nothing dramatic to help his cause,” Ali said.


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