Jessica King 4.jpg

Jessica King announces her run for Congress on Tuesday, July 18, 2017.

Jess King is promoting the results of a new public-opinion poll showing the Democrat is within single digits of Republican U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker in a congressional district that is widely seen as being safely in the hands of the GOP.

“We’ve got a real race,” King wrote in a fundraising email this week.

But is there a real race in the 11th?

And how exuberant should King and the Democrats really be?

Shouldn’t Smucker, an incumbent politician running in a midterm in which his party is expected to sustain significant losses, be nervous?

It’s unclear, and the survey findings don’t help voters truly understand the state of the race because the full poll methodology was not made public, independent pollsters said. They said voters also must consider that it was paid for by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which supports King.

“There’s a lot we don’t know about it,” said Berwood Yost, the head methodologist for the statewide Franklin & Marshall College poll. “Is it possible these results accurately reflect the district? It’s possible. But we’d just like to know more about how it was conducted.”

The polling firm, Public Policy Polling, conducts similar surveys for Democratic candidates. The King campaign exclusively published the poll and declined to make the full methodology available to LNP.

In addition, at least one of the questions asked of voters — after initially asking them a general “who would you vote for” question — appears to be designed to lead them into providing a specific response. “Critics of Lloyd Smucker,” that question begins, “say he is a career politician who won’t hold a town hall in the district, but still meets with the Koch brothers and collects tens of thousands of dollars from corporate PACs.”

The script then goes on to talk about King’s refusal of political-action committee money before asking who voters would side with in light of those details. (Smucker came out ahead of King by a mere percentage point on that question.)

Across the 11th Congressional District, which covers all of Lancaster County and southern York County, the poll of 552 likely voters found Smucker leading King by 9 percentage points, 44 percent to 35 percent. The margin of error is 4.2 percent, which means Smucker and King could be as little as 5 percentage points apart or as much as 13 points apart.

The 9-point difference between Smucker and King is surprisingly narrow, considering the 22-point GOP registration advantage and President Donald Trump’s 26-point win here in 2016, Yost said.

But, he added, “there is certainly more energy and interest among Democrats,” and other special election results have seen about a 13-point swing in favor of Democrats.

He also said the poll appeared to reflect the voter registration of the district because 54 percent of respondents said they were Republican, 33 percent said Democratic and 13 percent said Independent.

Chris Borick, a Muhlenberg College political scientist, said the poll results appear to be good news for Democrats. “That doesn’t mean it’s still not a big challenge for a Democrat to be competitive in this district even in a cycle like this,” he said.

But Borick said he’d prefer to see more about which voters the polling firm contacted. He said his polling includes only people who have voted in one of the last four elections or who are newly registered.

Yost said the poll’s significance would be more clear if the firm released information such as what factors were weighted, whether more questions were asked and in what order, and how they defined “likely voters.” He said it also doesn’t specify exactly how they surveyed voters.

It appears Public Policy Polling used automated phone dialing —which by law is possible with only landlines, possibly skewing the results because cell phones are left out, Yost said.

Nonetheless, with not a single independent poll conducted in the 11th Congressional District to date, the candidates and their supporters are left with just this partisan poll to debate.

“This race wasn’t seen as competitive six months ago,” Becca Rast, King’s campaign manager, said in a written statement. “But as more and more voters hear Jess’ story and her vision for an America for all of us, we can see our grassroots campaign gaining a lot of ground very quickly.”

Smucker campaign spokesman Mike Barley was less enthusiastic. “When your desperate opponent releases internal polls showing them losing badly, you know the real numbers are worse,” he said in a written statement.