First impressions and Bill Sali

Bill Sali

Bill Sali

Today’s poll numbers on Idaho 1st district politics have a parentage that makes them difficult to bypass: Ordered and distributed by Democrat Larry Grant‘s congressional campaign, but conducted with analysis by Republican pollster Greg Smith. An unusual kind of combination, regionally, but one suggesting solidity in the results.

The issue at hand is the numbers for the man who last year beat Grant for the U.S. House seat, Republican Bill Sali; and little wonder Grant wanted to note them, since Sali’s support doesn’t look especially strong from an incumbent who hasn’t yet stepped in any major hornet nests. Not yet posted on the Grant web site, here’s the summary from Smith:

The poll was conducted July 11-13 among 253 randomly selected and statistically representative Idahoans eighteen years of age or older (who live in Regions 1, 2, or 3) who are either very or somewhat likely to participate in either the Democratic caucus or Republican primary election in February and May, 2008, respectively. These respondents were interviewed utilizing the most modern CATI (computer assisted telephone interviewing) techniques. . . .

Among those with an impression of Larry Grant, the ratings are quite positive. For instance, 28% of Idaho voters in Regions 1/2/3 have a very/somewhat favorable impression of Grant, whereas only 13% have an unfavorable impression. This results in a 2:1 favorable/unfavorable ratio, which is quite positive. The challenge, however, is to create and/or enhance Grant’s image among the approximately 60% of Region 1/2/3 residents who either have heard of him but have no impression, or say they are unaware of him (about 30% in either case). The aware/no opinion concern is particularly present north of the Salmon River (Regions 1/2), where about 40% of respondents give this response.

In some ways, Bill Sali has similar impressions to Grant. He has an equally high level of “favorables” (29%), with 15% having a somewhat unfavorable impression. However, fully 31% of Region 1/2/3 voters have a very unfavorable impression of Sali, which is even slightly higher in Region 3 (38%). The resulting data have a margin of error of + 5.7% at a 95% confidence level.

A bottom line impression is that many of the negatives, or at least concerns, significant numbers of 1st district voters developed about Sali last year, appear to remain in place. And that may demonstrate the difficulty of changing impressions once formed, because the impression you could reasonably get of Sali during last year’s campaign are fairly different from those of the last few months.

The biggest rap on Sali (apart from philosophical or policy viewpoint) long has had to do with behavior – a generation of the kind of aggravation that translates to “does not play well with others.” Since going to the U.S. House, though – it has to be said – we’ve seen little evidence of that: Any blowups or bad behavior have not surfaced. True, he’s on the other side of the continent, and maybe much is happening that isn’t surfacing in news and feature reports; but the reportage we have available has painted a picture of a conservative Republican congressman fitting fairly comfortably into his caucus. Not what we anticipated based on prior history, but there it is.

In the last few months, the topics Sali has been associated with have had to do with such matters as hydropower, the farm bill, wildfire control, funding for transportation and West Nile projects. His first piece of passed legislation was a standard service-honorific measure having to do with Idaho Special Olympics. His output looks so far to be around the norm for a member of Congress.

He has complained about the sometimes irrational congressional process. But he also has been specific enough to seize on one of the most often-abused (abused for many decades, by both parties) pieces of the process, the ability craft Christmas-tree legislation which forces lawmakers to vote up or down on many subjects at once, denying them the ability to cast clean votes and often getting stuck with “supporting” things they opposed. Sali is the prime sponsor (with 27 others, at present) of House Resolution 565, which would amend House rules to divide such subjects (as, say, most state legislatures do). It may not clear the House, but by most external standards it’s a worthy effort.

None of which is necessarily conclusive or the whole story. But we find interesting that the mostly favorable headlines Sali has had in recent months so far appear to have only dented the impressions left from last year.

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