The Buffalo News leadership surveys – whose results are explained over four days – are not based on scientific samples, but they attempt to provide a candid look at Mayor Byron W. Brown and County Executive Mark A. Poloncarz through the eyes of those who deal with them firsthand. The News has conducted similar surveys of elected officials over some 25 years, with the last one seven years ago.

The surveys were sent to 320 individuals identified by The Buffalo News as leaders in one of three sectors of the community: government and political; business; or community/civic sector, which includes religious, educational, and arts and cultural organizations, as well as neighborhood leaders.

Two separate surveys asked respondents to grade Brown and Poloncarz on a scale of 1 (poor/extremely dissatisfied ) to 5 (excellent/extremely satisfied) on 18 personal and professional attributes, ranging from intelligence and willingness to compromise to temperament and leadership abilities. The News also asked respondents to identify the mayor and county executive’s greatest strengths and weaknesses and if the city and county are going in the right direction.

A third survey asked respondents to rank 25 local leaders – as identified by The Buffalo News – on their relative effectiveness in moving the Buffalo Niagara region forward.

The three surveys were sent to all 320 individuals, but the recipients were asked to only respond to a particular survey if they had personal dealings with the mayor or county executive.

The News received responses from 154 individuals, an overall return rate of about 48 percent. There were 117 responses to the county executive survey, 128 to the mayoral survey and 149 to the leadership survey. Some of those surveyed responded to one survey, some to two, and some to all three.

In an effort to ensure candor and honesty, The News gave respondents the option of not identifying themselves. Twenty-six, however, signed their questionnaires. Some quotes in The Buffalo News stories are based on follow-up interviews with many of those individuals.

The surveys were color-coded to represent the three sectors of leaders surveyed – business leaders; government and political leaders; and civic leaders. Each group represented about a third of those surveyed.

About 78 percent of those who responded to the survey identified themselves as white, 16.5 percent as black, and 2 percent as Hispanic. The remainder listed another race or did not disclose their race.

The surveys were analyzed using an online survey program.

The surveys are not scientific because the pool of survey respondents was identified by The Buffalo News and was not randomly or otherwise scientifically selected. The absence of a scientific sample means the survey doesn’t represent all those with firsthand knowledge of the mayor and county executive, and it opens up the possibility of bias in the survey results, explained Professor James E. Campbell, chairman of the University at Buffalo political science department. If, for example, the media has a bias, that could be reflected in the people selected by reporters and editors to respond to the survey.

In an attempt to overcome those potential shortcomings, The News assembled a wide-ranging survey recipient list with input from about a dozen reporters and editors from various departments of the newspaper – including business, arts, local news and urban affairs. The News also reached out to several local leaders to identify survey recipients, and then contacted Poloncarz and Brown, who each provided a list of individuals to whom the survey was also sent.

The surveys went to, among others, all members of the Buffalo Common Council and Erie County Legislature, as well as city and county government department heads, and town supervisors in Erie County.

– Susan Schulman