Pet factor in play in Pittsburgh mayor's race?

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Cats versus dogs. Ravenstahl versus Peduto. One debate is timeless, the other is timely.

But are they related?

An East Liberty polling company thinks they could be.

According to CivicScience, dog people are more likely to support city Councilman Bill Peduto in the upcoming Pittsburgh Democratic mayoral primary, while cat people are more likely to support current Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. The data compares only two candidates, since it was collected from Dec. 30 through Jan. 16, the day city Controller Michael Lamb entered the race.

The polling information, released by CivicScience in a blog post Sunday, has prompted more chuckles than pandering pet purchases by the candidates' campaigns.

"I guess that's why I have two cats," said Aletheia Henry, Mr. Ravenstahl's campaign manager.

The poll also suggests that people who eat at the restaurant Mad Mex are more likely to support Mr. Ravenstahl, and that people who prefer Casbah, Soba, Umi and Kaya favor Mr. Peduto. And it states that avid Steelers and Pirates fans are more likely to support Mr. Peduto, while Penguins fans are more likely to support Mr. Ravenstahl.

"Right now, we're just kind of having fun with it, since there's a paucity of polling for local races," said Ross McGowan, director of data science for the 15-person CivicScience firm. "It's something that we can do that others can't. We're collecting this data anyway, so we may as well write about it."

CivicScience collects its information by placing three-question surveys on hundreds of websites (including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which has a commercial relationship with CivicScience) and tracking individual respondents by their browser cookies and IP addresses to find statistically significant patterns, such as that people who prefer Mr. Ravenstahl for mayor in one survey prefer cats in another survey. The mayoral poll included 1,651 respondents who self-reported as registered Democrats living in Pittsburgh.

Internet polling, a much newer method than the standard telephone polling used by most political pollsters, should be considered cautiously, said Paul J. Lavrakas, president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, based in Deerfield, Ill.

"It's too new a science for anyone to know with good enough confidence when it's accurate or when it's going to be accurate," he said.

CivicScience mostly conducts and analyzes consumer polls, not political ones, but Mr. McGowan said he believes the company's data provides a good profile of respondents, and he cited the 18-point lead the company predicted for Rich Fitzgerald shortly before the November 2011 election for Allegheny County executive. (Mr. Fitzgerald won the race by 24 points.)

As the race for mayor continues, Mr. McGowan said the company will continue to release polling data, with future results including Mr. Lamb's entry into the race.

For now, though, with his feline figures trailing, Mr. Peduto joked that his campaign was planning "a full-out blitz" on the cat people, with ads in Cat Fancy magazine.

"We intend to keep it close, and then win it on Election Day, when we can unite both the dog and cat people together," he said.

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Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/


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