In spring 2014, the city of Missoula commissioned a poll from Harstad Strategic Research. The city has long claimed that the poll was intended to gauge public support for condemning Mountain Water Company’s assets, and that the results demonstrated support. Deposition testimony by the poll’s designer tells another story.
In fact, as sworn statements from the poll’s designer make clear, the city paid for the poll in order to promote its takeover of the water company and to influence the public — including the judge, as a member of the public.
Public opinion polls have long been regarded by courts as meaningless hearsay. That’s especially true in this instance, given the flaws in polling methodology.
The poll was materially flawed in both the content and form of the questions and in the manner the callers asked the questions — not to mention the fact that not all Mountain customers were surveyed.
For example, the poll did not include the opinions of any of the more than 1,500 Mountain Water customers who live outside city limits — people who might face forced annexation if the city takes over the system. Not only that, but the poll did not distinguish Mountain Water customers from the customers of more than 100 other private water systems within the Missoula city limits.