Bill Steigerwald

The name Zogby -- like Gallup -- has become synonymous with polling and public opinion research on almost every continent. John Zogby, president and CEO of Zogby International, and his polling experts have been trying to predict the outcomes of elections like Tuesday’s Pennsylvania Primary since 1984. After news that his company’s April 15-16 phone poll of likely Democrat voters showed Hillary Clinton with a 45-44 lead over Barack Obama, I called Zogby on Thursday afternoon at his offices in Utica, N.Y.

Q: What has been happening to cut down Clinton’s double-digit lead?

A: Generally speaking, it’s negative campaigning. That’s the broad stroke. There’s plenty of evidence throughout the year that negative campaigning just isn’t working anymore -- that in fact it backfires. That’s broadly. Specifically, it doesn’t work for Sen. Clinton. So it may be one thing to do damage to the opponent, or to have the opponent inflict wounds upon himself, but that doesn’t make her more likable. So essentially, she’s not picking up, in other words.

Q: So her support is eroding as much as Obama’s has been growing?

A: Yes. Well, she was ahead by 20 points two or three weeks ago. She was in the mid-50s, and here she is in the mid-40s and he’s gone from the high 30s into the mid-40s. So it’s been a little bit of both. He’s clearly picked up in the Philadelphia area -- African-American support and suburban support. Meanwhile, she has declined in that area dramatically, though of course she still holds substantial leads in central Pennsylvania and Western Pennsylvania.

Q: Why is she so strong in Western and Southwestern Pennsylvania?

A: It’s a very good question, but let’s use the Ohio model. If one were to do one of those old Joel Garreau cultural things, Western Pennsylvania and Northeastern and Eastern Ohio are one cultural region. It’s very industrial, very Catholic, very post-industrial working class -- meaning service work and so on, a lot of economic victims. Some of it, to be sure, is race. We know that. It’s hard to quantify it, but it’s there. Some of it is, frankly, that Hillary Clinton is a place holder, I think, for John McCain. She is the anti-Obama vote without necessarily being the favorite.

Q: What fooled you about Ohio’s primary? Your last poll had that as a tie as well, yet Clinton ended up winning by 10 percentage points.

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald, born and raised in Pittsburgh, is a former L.A. Times copy editor and free-lancer who also worked as a docudrama researcher for CBS-TV in Hollywood before becoming a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a columnist Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Bill Steigerwald recently retired from daily newspaper journalism..