Administrator polls local shoppers

by Alexa Millinger

Metro News Editor

A professional election poll can cost thousands of dollars, but Bernard Demczuk, GW’s assistant vice president of D.C. relations, has developed a way to do it virtually for free and has not been wrong in 22 years.

His self-devised “supermarket poll” has accurately picked the winner in every hotly contested local election since the early 1990s. Wrapping up this year’s poll, he is confident that he knows who District residents favor in the horse race for the two City Council at-large seats.

With a team of GW students helping him out, Demczuk polled 500 D.C. voters coming in and out of local supermarkets in all of the District’s eight wards and found incumbent candidate Kwame Brown, D, to be the clear favorite – without using traditional polling techniques.

“Who’s to say the telephone pollster is more accurate than me?” Demczuk said.

This year’s poll results, however, included a caveat since incumbent candidate Carol Schwartz, R, lost her September primary and is now running as a write-in candidate.

Demczuk’s poll found Schwartz to be the second-favorite among the seven candidates, but he is doubtful Schwartz will be able to turn that into a win on Election Day without massive support from campaign workers at the polls reminding voters to write in her name.

A close third with the supermarket voters is candidate Michael Brown, who will most likely take the second at-large seat instead of Schwartz, Demczuk said.

Though he is not a trained pollster, Demczuk knows D.C. politics.

He was a former chief city lobbyist under D.C. Mayor Marion Barry and currently acts as GW’s liaison to the city government. An activist during the Civil Rights movement, Demczuk boasts about his 23 arrests for peaceful protesting, which he blamed on his “justice gene.”

In 1986, while working on a congressional campaign for former Rep. Mike Espy in Mississippi, Demczuk stumbled upon supermarket polling.

Waiting in line at a local grocery store decked out in Espy campaign buttons, a woman in line next to him asked if he was supporting Espy. Demczuk replied that indeed he was and asked if she was as well. When the woman responded yes, Demczuk continued down the checkout line, asking everyone if they were also Espy supporters.

In an overwhelmingly black Mississippi Delta town, Demczuk said residents were somewhat skeptical of him.

“They were afraid to tell me because I’m white. Because who am I? Some sort of spy or something?” he said.

Demczuk said he knew he was onto something when Espy won the election as his informal polling predicted.

He credits his survey’s success to his “anecdotal” approach to polling. He said a pollster can learn a lot more about a voter by looking them in the eye and talking to them rather than polling over the phone.

Demczuk said in D.C. he also matches his data up with city demographics and voting tendencies.

“Critics say, ‘You have more women in your poll because you’re at a supermarket and women are doing the shopping.’ Well, that may be true, but more women are voting in D.C.” he said.

Junior Sean Williams, who polled for Demczuk in Ward 3, said he was impressed with the poll’s methods and predicts the community-based approach will yield an accurate result. For Williams, the supermarket poll was a new experience.

“I never thought I’d be doing something like this because I’m a business major,” he said.

On Sunday night, Demczuk tabulated his 2008 supermarket poll and hand-delivered it Monday morning to most of the seven candidates’ offices and local media outlets that rely on his data.

Demczuk said he is willing to bet his paycheck on the results, but added that his real motives for reprising the poll every two years are about more than predicting a winner.

“Look,” he said. “It’s fun, it’s educational and it involves my students in the political process.” n

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