ENCINITAS — A pair of telephone polls on controversial topics in Encinitas by a mysterious website appear to show residents oppose development on agricultural land and a pair of city commissioners who have refused to stand for the flag salute.
But residents have raised questions about the legitimacy of the results and apparent political bias.
The website, called Encinitas Declined to State, conducted two telephone surveys, one dealing with standing for the pledge of allegiance and the other on the topic of whether agriculturally zoned land should be included in the city’s housing element plans.
The organization emailed the results of its survey to two media outlets and the Encinitas City Council. The Coast News attempted to solicit comment from the organization by sending three emails in reply to the email sender, but received no response by the time of publication.
According to the website, “EncinitasDTS (Decline To State) is devoted to providing the citizens of Encinitas the opportunity to voice their opinions on key issues facing the city and its elected officials through a series of periodic telephone polls.”
The scripts of both survey questions are listed on the website.
The robocall asked told those surveyed that “City Council members Blakespear, Mosca and Boerner-Horvath want to allow high-density housing on some of our remaining agriculturally zoned property. Should Encinitas allow housing on its agriculturally zoned land. Press 1 if you are in favor of protecting our agriculturally zoned land, press 2 if you are in favor of allowing high-density housing on agriculturally zoned land.”
In the second robocall, the caller introduced themselves as a “proud veteran and Encinitas resident” taking a “quick one question opinion poll” about Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear’s appointment of two city commissioners — traffic and public safety commissioners Christina Simokat and Darius Degher — who are refusing to stand for the pledge of allegiance.
Citing an NBC New interview in which Blakespear said she would have still appointed them if she knew they were planning on protesting the flag, the robocall asks the recipient to push “1” if they disagreed with Blakespear or “2” if they agreed.
According to the website, 80 percent of the 454 people surveyed said they opposed development on agricultural land, and 58.7 percent disagreed with Blakespear on the flag salute issue.
Blakespear, when asked to comment on the surveys, said “there are lots of opinion polls and push polls.”
But some residents have quickly denounced the surveys, which they said are misleading and factually incorrect in their presentation, and take aim at several council members who are registered Democrats.
Former Mayor Teresa Barth said she and her husband did both surveys, but had major reservations about the results.
“At the time, we thought they were obvious attempts at creating misinformation, fear and divisiveness in the upcoming election season…in terms of the candidates and the Housing Element,” Barth said.
Barth, who is registered as an independent, pointed out that only one agriculturally zoned property is being discussed in the housing element, the Dramm & Echter property, which is being discussed as a hybrid of housing and agriculture. The other property that has been controversial during the housing element process, a city-owned property near Quail Gardens Drive referred to as the “L7” property, is already zoned residential.
“The question about high-density housing and agricultural land is factually incorrect,” she said. “By naming three council members specifically and attaching them to a grossly false statement borders on character assassination.”
Carl Luna, a political science professor with the University of San Diego, echoed some of Barth’s concerns with the survey’s political bent and use of leading questions.
“The wording of the poll clearly indicates the “asker” has a particular answer to the question that is being sought (that corresponds with the poll outcomes),” Luna said. “This compromises the integrity of the survey. Indeed, there is no indication of methodology used in the survey (who was called, what were the criteria used, etc) in the links/calls which compromises any claims to accuracy in the results.
“The link you provided goes to a page which has no attribution about whom EncinitasDTS (Decline To State) is, who supports/pays for them, what the purpose of the poll is,” Luna said. “The general presentation is that the poll is nonpartisan (decline to state) and the questions asked are by “Encinitas Resident” and “proud veteran and Encinitas resident” without any attribution, wording meant to inspire confidence in the poll (“I’m one of you”). There is no way in knowing if this is true.”
Luna said given the lack of attribution of the survey’s source and the leading language, he said the poll isn’t sampling public opinion, it is attempting to form it.
“Given the lack of attribution to the source of the survey, the methodology used in its conduct and the loaded language of the questions a reasonable observer could look at this as an example of “push-polling” meant to not sample opinions but to sway them in a nontransparent way,” Luna said. “Reputable polling organizations do not conduct business in this way.”