A pollster paid $100,000 to conduct citizen surveys for the city of Tulsa says he was not trying to help Mayor Dewey Bartlett by making critical remarks of the mayor’s challenger during a radio interview last week.
SoonerPoll’s founder Bill Shapard, who has twice been paid to conduct citizen satisfaction surveys, said last week that Mayor Dewey Bartlett’s primary challenger would effectively put former Mayor Kathy Taylor back in the mayor’s office if elected.
However, Shapard said Thursday he wasn’t advocating for Bartlett and was only expressing his opinion based on polling data.
Bartlett, who is seeking a third term, is being challenged by Bynum and three other candidates. The nonpartisan mayoral primary is June 28.
Shapard appeared on the Pat Campbell radio show during an 18 minute interview last week to discuss the race. During the interview, Shapard described Bartlett as more conservative than Bynum, accused Bynum of basing his candidacy on “shifting sands” and repeatedly linked the councilor’s campaign to Taylor.
Bartlett and Bynum are Republicans. Taylor is a Democrat who lost to Bartlett in a highly contentious — and expensive — mayor’s race in 2013.
Shapard said critics of his remarks were hearing only what they wanted to hear.
“It was not my intent to help or hurt any candidate in the race,” Shapard said. “I think I was equally fair and equally harsh to both candidates. I think my analysis of the race is a reflection of what I see in the data.”
Shapard is a well-regarded pollster who has conducted political polling for the Tulsa World and other media outlets and organizations across the state for more than a decade.
He also conducted two citizen satisfaction surveys for the city of Tulsa since Bartlett took office in late 2009. He was paid $50,000 for each survey, the most recent of which was released last month and reflected general satisfaction with city services and the direction of the city.
Bartlett referred to the survey results on the campaign trail, and Shapard referenced them to support his positions during his interview with Campbell.
Shapard said his recent polling work also indicates that Tulsans believe the city is headed in the right direction. Shapard insisted his remarks were not slanted toward one candidate and defended his right to speak on the issues.
“I don’t think there is any reason why I should be singled out as a contractor of the city who should not be able to express an opinion, if I am the only one,” Shapard said. “Every other contractor should be held to that same standard.”
He added: “Any work that I have done for the city was done in an unbiased way and no one has ever challenged that I did that in any biased way whatsoever.”
Poll numbers show tight race
The radio interview began with Shapard reviewing his polling results on the mayor’s race.
Bartlett is up 36 percent to 32 percent over Bynum, which is within the margin of error, he said. Bynum has a healthy share of Republicans, and history indicates a substantial number of the 26 percent of uncommitted voters could well cast their ballots for the challenger, Shapard said.
Shapard told Campbell he would expect the polling numbers for an incumbent like Bartlett to be about 10 percentage points higher.
“It’s not looking good for Dewey in this,” Shapard said.
After Campbell noted the mayoral election is nonpartisan, Shapard explained Bynum was pulling more support from Democrats.
“So, he in essence is coming out to be the Democratic candidate in this race,” Shapard said.
One of the questions going forward, he added, is, “Will Republicans back a candidate that basically, in essence, may put Kathy Taylor back into the mayor’s office.”
Shapard said Bynum has the support of 27 percent of Republicans, according to his poll, which is bad news for Bartlett.
At one point Shapard said Taylor has endorsed Bynum. She has not.
When Campbell suggested it might make sense for the Bartlett campaign to focus on the supposed Taylor tie, Shapard said: “If I was running his campaign, that is what I would do. If I was G.T. Bynum, I would definitely try to eat away at both sides of the Republican spectrum and the Democratic spectrum.”
Later in the interview, Campbell said Bartlett was running on his record while Bynum was selling the vision that Tulsa can do better.
Shapard’s response: “But how do you sell a vision when basically Tulsans come back and say, ‘We like the direction that we’re going, we like city services?’”
After a commercial break, Shapard asked Campbell whether he could say one more thing about the mayor’s race.
“Dewey is really making himself out to be, as you said, the known commodity,” Shapard said. “That known commodity is the most conservative in the race. … The problem is he (Bynum) is building his campaign on shifting sands rather than a solid foundation of conservatism. The reason why, again, is he’s getting the support of Kathy Taylor but he wants to make himself out as a conservative Republican.”
Shapard pointed to the candidates’ positions on University of Oklahoma President David Boren’s proposed 1-cent sales tax on public education and other issues. Bynum stated he supports the tax as a temporary solution to the state’s education funding needs. Bartlett does not support the proposal.
“G.T. wants to have it both ways, and Dewey came out, which is probably the unpopular view at this point, which is, no, education shouldn’t be using this as a tax revenue model, and took the strong stance,” Shapard said.
On Thursday he added another issue he says shows Bartlett is more conservative: his support for Donald Trump. Bynum has said he will not bring presidential politics into the mayor’s race.
“When I said he was the most conservative in the race, that is not based upon polling data,” but the issues he raised, Shapard said Thursday.
Near the end of the interview, Campbell questioned whether Bynum was really a Republican or a conservative, saying Bynum and fellow Republican City Councilors Phil Lakin and Blake Ewing represent a new progressive strain of Republicans with a particular vision for the city.
“Pat, is it that they have a new vision for the city, or they have a new vision for themselves?” Shapard said.
“Because any time we see candidates taking not the hard position but the more political position, we see them more interested in winning an election rather than taking the right stance and doing what is tough.”
The Bynum and Bartlett campaigns declined to comment on Shapard’s remarks. But Bartlett’s campaign manager, Matt Faeth, said Shapard has no affiliation with the campaign.
In response to questions from The Frontier, the city of Tulsa earlier this week issued a statement saying Shapard was selected by committee and Bartlett had no involvement in the process.
“For the city survey, Shapard Research was selected by committee from two contractors that presented proposals to conduct the 2016 survey. Shapard also conducted a previous citizens survey for the city of Tulsa,” city Spokeswoman Kim MacLeod said in a written statement.
“The citizen survey does not include questions with respect to elected officials’ performance — that could be construed as political polling using taxpayer money.”
Shapard said he will continue to analyze races and make the connections between what is going on in those races and what he sees in the polling data.
“We do that all the time as analysts,” Shapard said.
He added: “It should be known for the record, just because you believe that I shouldn’t have an opinion just because I’m a contractor doesn’t mean I am going to stop having an opinion.”