Bob Bernick’s Notebook: Dabakis Attacks the Messenger, Ignores the Message

We here at UtahPolicy are really excited about our new weekly public opinion surveys, sponsored by Zions Bank and conducted by Utah’s premiere polling expert, Dan Jones of Dan Jones & Associates.

This comes after one of my columns where I bemoaned the lack – mainly due to tight budgets – of polling conducted by traditional local news media, like the Deseret News and The Salt Lake Tribune.

Those, and other media outlets, may do polling in the future. And I hope they do.

But no longer do we see the regular, systematic public opinion surveys like we’ve seen in the past, when news organizations were basically making money hand over fist.

UtahPolicy publisher LaVarr Webb, with years of experience in newspapering and public policy consulting, and Zions Bank President and CEO Scott Anderson, decided to hire Dan Jones, who has been polling in Utah for over 40 years, as our main consultant.

Jones is working with his old firm, Dan Jones & Associates, which was bought by the Cicero Group several years ago.

But make no mistake, Jones is the expert here and ALL of the poll questions and technical data collection are overseen by him personally.

I’ve known and worked with Jones for 35 years, first as a Salt Lake City and state government reporter for the Deseret News, then later as its political editor.

No media reporter knows Jones’ work better than me.

And while Jones has kind of a quirky personality (he thinks the same of me), you can take this to the bank: Dan Jones is one of the most honest, hardworking professionals you can find, anywhere, any time.

That is why I found it bizarre behavior this past week when Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, went on a local TV station to publicly question Dan Jones’ latest poll results on same sex marriage in Utah.

Now, Dabakis, the former chair of the Utah Democratic Party, is smart enough not to attack Jones’ integrity directly.

Instead, he questioned poll results paid for by a “lobbyist.”

Dabakis is referring to Webb, who at times has registered as a lobbyist with the Utah Legislature.

But while Webb is also an honest man, he DOES NOT control Jones’ professional work, and certainly does not have the power (not that he would he ever act) to change or slant poll results produced by Jones.

So, when Dabakis attacks the veracity and accuracy of a ZionsBank/ poll, he is really attacking the character and work of Dan Jones (besides throwing some mud on me, UtahPolicy Managing Editor Bryan Schott, and certainly Webb.)

Now, there was a difference between the new ZionsBank/ survey results on same-sex marriage and a Tribune poll conducted right after last December’s ruling by a Utah-based federal court judge that Utah’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.

(During the 17-day window when same-sex marriage was legal in Utah, Dabakis, the only openly gay member of the Legislature, married his long-time partner. Congratulations to both, I say. That is great.)

But the difference is easily explained, as Tribune reporter Matt Canham pointed out in his Tuesday story on the new Jones’ poll results.

The pollsters simply asked different questions – thus different responses.

The new Jones poll asked the traditional, and best measure, question: “Do you favor or oppose same-sex marriage.”

You, dear reader, find the bias in that one, if you can. (Jones’ demographic questions – aimed at getting a good, normal sampling of the citizenry – were the same as he always does.)

In the senator’s attempted to slam the new UtahPolicy poll conducted by Jones, ironically Dabakis also takes a real shot at a Senate Democratic colleague, and one of his minority party leaders.

Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, is Dan Jones’ wife, and a long-time partner in their polling firm, Dan Jones & Associates.

Pat Jones is an industry recognized leader in what are called “focus groups,” where a pollster gets a group of people together in a room where they watch a new advertisement, campaign ad or other market product and are quizzed on their responses.

But Pat Jones also participated in Deseret News/KLS-TV polling by Dan Jones over the last 30 years or so, before the Jones’ contract ran out with the news organizations about two years ago.

Sen. Jones is now the assistant minority whip, but has been the minority leader in the past.

That’s only one reason I call Dabakis’ latest public complaints against UtahPolicy bizarre.

But then Dabakis has opinioned on Facebook (yes, we are friends on the social network) that for him the issue of same-sex marriage and gay rights has become “personal” – and no longer will he accept platitudes from straight friends and political colleagues about how gay rights advocates just need to wait for society to catch up on gay discrimination.

When things become personal, they can become warped.

I agree with Dabakis that gay, lesbian and transgender people must have the same legal and civil rights as other Americans.

But this is one reporter who will not let Dabakis’ unfair attacks and innuendos concerning my work and the work of my colleagues and friends go unanswered.

When provoked, we can all take things personally.

I can only do my best not to become warped when it comes to Jim Dabakis. But he’s not making it easy.