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Puzzling Polls: The Race For San Juan City Hall

by Lance Oliver

September 3, 1999
Copyright © 1999 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Charlie Rodríguez and Jorge Santini are neck and neck for the New Progressive Party nomination for mayor of San Juan. No, wait, it's Santini by a landslide.

Who to believe?

Two newspaper polls out recently paint far different portraits of the primary election campaign for mayor of San Juan. In El Nuevo Día's poll, Santini supposedly has a whopping 68% to 28% margin over Rodríguez.

Further, the poll results indicate that while Santini would defeat likely Popular Democratic Party candidate Eduardo Bhatia in the general election, Rodríguez would lose to Bhatia. (The fact that El Nuevo Día still has not learned how to spell Bhatia's name correctly is probably not an indicator of the accuracy of the poll results, though it may tell us something else.)

Meanwhile, a Pablo Ramos poll published in The San Juan Star showed the race too close to call, with Santini getting 41% and Rodríguez at 40%, a difference well within the 3% margin of error and therefore statistically insignificant.

In the other key races, the two polls more or less agreed. The Ramos poll in the Star found Sila Calderón ahead of Carlos Pesquera 46% to 39% in the race for governor. El Nuevo Día had the margin at 47% for Calderón and 31% for Pesquera.

In the intra-party fight in the PDP between Aníbal Acevedo Vilá and José Hernández Mayoral for resident commissioner, Ramos has Acevedo Vilá leading 39% to 35% and El Nuevo Día calls it 47% to 41%.

So if the other findings are so similar, why is there such a discrepancy on the findings in the San Juan mayoral primary?
Two nuggets of information in the El Nuevo Día report give us clues.

First, the article accompanying the poll notes that these results were "based on a small sample of NPP voters within the limits of the city of San Juan." As noted by the firm who designed the poll, Kaagan Research Associates, Inc., the usual margin of error of plus or minus 3% is greater for subgroups.

Simply put, the fewer people surveyed, the less reliable the results.

The pollsters tried to overcome that problem by conducting additional interviews in San Juan to get enough responses to judge the local election. For the rest of the poll, they interviewed people all over Puerto Rico on island-wide campaigns and issues. Where were the additional interviews conducted? Throughout the city or in Santini strongholds? That can make all the difference in a small sample.

Anecdotal evidence suggests the race is a close one, not a Santini blowout. It's also a hard-fought one, almost literally, as supporters of the two candidates nearly came to blows recently.

On at least two occasions, violence nearly broke out between supporters of the two candidates at NPP activities. To try to put a halt to that, House Speaker Edison Misla Aldarondo mediated between the two candidates, who emerged from the meeting promising to tell their followers to call a truce.

It didn't sound like much of a truce, however. While attending the supposedly conciliatory meeting, Santini handed Rodríguez a letter criticizing the behavior of Rodríguez's followers. Afterwards, Rodríguez implied that a faction among Santini's supporters was actively trying to provoke disturbances and said even his daughter had been attacked.

Partisans of both candidates are in the streets of San Juan with sound trucks, handing out leaflets and seeking votes.

An intra-party battle already this strong hardly needs the added fuel of provocative and conflicting poll results.

The lesson of the mismatched results is that the reader of newspaper polls sometimes has to read between the lines to judge the findings. But that's hard to do when you don't have multiple sources of information, and there are thousands of people in Puerto Rico who read El Nuevo Día and don't read The San Juan Star or may not hear Ramos' polls on the radio.

As a result, there are undoubtedly many voters in San Juan who think Santini has a lock on the party nomination. Enough to affect the outcome of the vote? Probably not, but it can't help Rodríguez.

Santini may well win the primary election. But with 68% of the vote? Take it from an old newspaper hand. You can't believe everything you read in the papers.


Lance Oliver writes The Puerto Rico Report weekly for The Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached by email at:

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