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Friday, April 27, 2012

Don’t know what to say about poll

Telegraph Editorial

For those who may have missed it, there was a fascinating nugget of information in the latest WMUR Granite State Poll released Wednesday by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

No, it wasn’t that state voters are pretty evenly split between those who approve of the job state lawmakers are doing (40 percent) and those who don’t (42 percent).

And it wasn’t that Republicans are more likely to say they approve of the GOP-controlled Legislature’s work (56 percent) than independents (41 percent) and Democrats (28 percent).

Rather, it’s that based on this statewide telephone poll of 538 randomly selected adults between April 9-20, the majority said they didn’t know enough about either of the two leaders of the House of Representatives and Senate to offer an opinion.

And when one of those two people is House Speaker William O’Brien, arguably the most controversial speaker in at least a generation, we suspect the poll’s findings may have raised an eyebrow or two.

Here’s the question people were asked: “I’d like to get your overall opinion of some people in the news. As I read each name, please say if you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of this person – or if you have never heard of him or her.”

When asked specifically about O’Brien, 15 percent said they had a favorable opinion of the Mont Vernon Republican, while 27 percent had an unfavorable opinion. Fair enough.

But that also means more than half of those polled (54 percent) said they didn’t know enough about him to register an opinion; the other 4 percent were neutral.

The same was true for Senate President Peter Bragdon – though even more so. Of those polled, 71 percent said they didn’t know enough about him, 8 percent offered a favorable opinion and 14 percent a negative one.

That the Milford Republican isn’t a household name certainly shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. While Bragdon has served as one of the state’s 24 senators since 2004 – the past few terms as its president – he isn’t the type of politician who generally seeks out or finds himself in the spotlight.

Still, the fact that more than seven of 10 didn’t have an opinion of the Senate president – by title, at least, one of the three most powerful positions in the state – is somewhat surprising.

Precisely what this means, of course, is open to interpretation.

Does it mean those polled simply didn’t know who they were? That they did but hadn’t paid enough attention to form an opinion either way? Or that outside of the media, pundits, lobbyists, businesses and politically active organizations in the state, the average New Hampshire resident is just too busy to be bothered with the proverbial sausage making that takes place each day in and around the Capitol.

Then again, maybe O’Brien and Bragdon’s recognition numbers aren’t so bad after all.

A separate UNH poll found that more than eight of 10 didn’t know or have an opinion of three of the four major candidates for governor: Democrats Jackie Cilley (83 percent) and Maggie Hassan (81 percent), and Republican Kevin Smith (84 percent).

Even Republican Ovide Lamontagne, who lost a close primary contest to Kelly Ayotte for U.S. Senate two years ago, registered an O’Brienesque 54 percent in the “don’t know” category.

So what does it all mean? Hard to say. Just put us down as not knowing enough to offer an opinion.