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CSUF Chief Yields on Irvine Poll

Vowing reform, Gordon says the survey -- done for a political consultant -- is unacceptable partisan activity. Panel will OK new contracts.

September 23, 2004|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

Cal State Fullerton researchers were wrong to conduct a poll in Irvine last month on behalf of a political consultant -- and a review board will ensure it doesn't happen again, college President Milton Gordon said Wednesday.

In a prepared statement, Gordon apologized to the city, its council members, residents and "the public in general" for a poll by the campus Social Science Research Center sponsored by a political consultant allied with Irvine's mayor.

"It is not in the center's purview to engage in partisan activity related to candidates for public office," Gordon said, adding that the poll was "an unacceptable departure" from the university's mission of pursuing public-interest research.

A review committee will oversee polling contracts for the center and ensure that appropriate policies, standards and procedures are in place for evaluating the requests, Gordon said.

While not ruling out political campaigns as clients, the university will reserve the right to approve questions and poll sponsors to assure that they "meet the university's standards of fairness and neutrality," university spokeswoman Paula Selleck said.

The poll became an issue last week after Irvine Councilman Mike Ward protested to Gordon, saying some of the questions misrepresented his political views in an attempt to test "hit" messages to be used against him later in the campaign.

The poll included about 90 questions, most of which were standard queries. Five questions, however, purported to inform voters of policy positions by Ward and then asked if knowing the information would change voters' minds.

Ward said four of the questions misstated his positions.

Ward thanked Gordon for swiftly dealing with his complaint and for releasing information on the poll, including the questions, cost and sponsor -- a company owned by Irvine resident Ed Dornan, the chief po- litical backer of Mayor Larry Agran.

Agran, who is running for a council seat Nov. 2, is supporting Councilwoman Beth Krom against Ward to succeed him.

"I admire Fullerton for stepping up as quickly as they did," Ward said Wednesday.

Dornan said last week that the poll of 600 Irvine voters was conducted to "determine the strengths and weaknesses" of candidates in the election, including Ward and Krom.

The results showed Ward was "out of sync with Irvine voters," Dornan said. He said he hadn't decided if or how he would use the information in the campaign.

University officials said Wednesday that they hadn't received payment from Dornan for the $16,308 survey.

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