SALT LAKE CITY — The 4th District congressional race continued to heat up Thursday with the release of conflicting poll results by Republican Mia Love and Democrat Doug Owens.
Love's poll shows her well ahead in the race, with 47 percent to 28 percent for Owens. But Owens' poll has him at 44 percent — just 3 points behind Love, who also has 47 percent in his poll.
One reason the numbers don't match up may be that the polls used different questions to determine who voters back in the race to replace retiring Rep. Jim Matheson, the only Democrat in Utah's congressional delegation.
Owens' poll, conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, a Democratic-leaning firm with offices in California and Wisconsin, asked respondents to choose between only Owens and Love.
But Love's poll, done by Y2 Analytics, a Utah firm started by a pair of BYU professors and her campaign manager, Dave Hansen, also gave respondents the option of choosing three third-party candidates.
The Owens poll, conducted Monday and Tuesday of 403 voters in the 4th District, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent. The Love poll sampled 500 likely voters in the district Sept. 30-Oct. 2 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent.
Owens said he is "terrifically excited" about the results of his polling. On Wednesday, he launched three new TV commercials targeting Love's position on education issues.
"This is a horse race," Owens said, describing the results as reflecting what he's hearing from voters as he campaigns. "We hired a rock-solid pollster. My campaign doesn't have the money to spend on fake polls. We wanted a realistic snapshot."
Scott Riding, Y2 Analytics managing partner, said it's harder for out-of-state pollsters to identify who is likely to cast a ballot, especially in a midterm election year.
Riding also said "it's absolutely more fair" to include all the candidates whose names will be on the ballot. And many voters are just starting to pay attention to the election, he said.
University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said there are legitimate reasons why the results may differ, but they wouldn't be made public if they weren't seen as helping the campaigns.
"Both of those campaigns have the messages they want to send," Burbank said. "That's always one of the things we have to take into account when we see campaigns release public opinion polls."
Burbank said the Love campaign wants to make sure her supporters know she's in the lead, while Owens is trying to tell voters he's got a real chance of closing the gap if they'll turn out for him.
He said what's interesting about the results is that neither poll has Love over 50 percent.
"That at least will give the Doug Owens campaign some reason for hope," Burbank said. "But the reality is it looks like however you ask that question, she is the leading candidate here."
In August, a UtahPolicy.com poll showed Love ahead with 44 percent to 32 percent for Owens, and 19 percent of voters undecided. A July poll by Owens' pollster had him within 9 percentage points of Love.
Contributing: Richard Piatt
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