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Did landslide poll results influence election?

Rochester, N.Y. -- The Wednesday morning quarterbacking is underway after the primary upset for Rochester mayor, and some are asking whether a poll predicting the wrong outcome influenced the opposite outcome.

"In Rochester we obviously got it way wrong," said Donald Levy of the Siena Research Institute which conducted the poll.

The poll predicted Tom Richards would get 63-percent of the vote, versus 27-percent for challenger Lovely Warren. In reality, she won the primary with 58-percent of the vote to Richards' 42-percent.

Levy says one of every 20 polls fails because it measures a population different than those who actually turn out to vote. He says that's what happened in Rochester.

How did that happen?

"I was as surprised as anyone," said Kim Montinarello. She says she was surprised to get a recent phone call from the Albany area pollster asking her to weigh in on a race she can't even cast a vote for. "I told them I don't live in the City of Rochester, I live in Irondequoit," she told 13WHAM News.

Montinarello says her mailing address is in Rochester, but she lives in Irondequoit and not within the city limits. "She was really surprised," she said of the pollster once she revealed that fact. "We ended the conversation there."

Montinarello has learned of other suburban residents receiving similar calls. "If I didn't know how polling worked or what it was all about I could see myself answering those questions," she said.

13WHAM News has uncovered another potential issue with the poll. It's results indicating a Richards landslide are based on responses from voters who were 60-percent white and 37-percent African American.

According to the 2010 census the actual demographic makeup of the City of Rochester is much closer: 43-percent white to 41-percent African American.

"Even if the turnout was closer to 50-50 we would see the gap closing but it wouldn't account for what happened here. It still doesn't result in predicting that Warren could have won by 16 points," said levy.

At just under 23-percent, voter turnout is the lowest in history for a Democratic mayoral primary in Rochester. "Clearly the turnout was significantly depressed and I don't know what to attribute that to," said Monroe County Democratic Party Chairman Joe Morelle.

"I heard from many voters yesterday that the race was over and they didn't need to bother themselves to vote," he adds.

"The assertion that somehow the poll drove down turnout is unlikely," said Levy. He points out turnout in Rochester was equal to that in other upstate cities in which landslides were predicted.

Jane Flasch

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Washington Times