Daily Kos to sue Research 2000 over polling fraud

posted at 2:42 pm on June 29, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

Many people have commented on the lack of accuracy coming from the Research 2000 polls commissioned by the Daily Kos, an effort to elevate the Kos community site from a blog to a news site.  Most of the blame for the outliers was placed on the site’s activist owner, but in an announcement today, Markos Moulitsas said that the polling firm had “defrauded” him, and that a lawsuit will follow in a couple of days:

I have just published a report by three statistics wizards showing, quite convincingly, that the weekly Research 2000 State of the Nation poll we ran the past year and a half was likely bunk. …

We contracted with Research 2000 to conduct polling and to provide us with the results of their surveys. Based on the report of the statisticians, it’s clear that we did not get what we paid for. We were defrauded by Research 2000, and while we don’t know if some or all of the data was fabricated or manipulated beyond recognition, we know we can’t trust it. Meanwhile, Research 2000 has refused to offer any explanation. Early in this process, I asked for and they offered to provide us with their raw data for independent analysis — which could potentially exculpate them. That was two weeks ago, and despite repeated promises to provide us that data, Research 2000 ultimately refused to do so. At one point, they claimed they couldn’t deliver them because their computers were down and they had to work out of a Kinkos office. Research 2000 was delivered a copy of the report early Monday morning, and though they quickly responded and promised a full response, once again the authors of the report heard nothing more. …

I want to feel stupid for being defrauded, but fact is Research 2000 had a good reputation in political circles. Among its clients the last two years have been KCCI-TV in Iowa, WCAX-TV in Vermont, WISC-TV in Wisconsin, WKYT-TV in Kentucky, Lee Enterprises, the Concord Monitor, The Florida Times-Union, WSBT-TV/WISH-TV/WANE-TV in Indiana, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Bergen Record, and the Reno Gazette-Journal. In fact, just last week, in an email debate about robo-pollsters, I had a senior editor at a top DC-based political publication tell me that he’d “obviously” trust Research 2000 more than any automated pollsters, such as SurveyUSA. I didn’t trust Research 2000 more than I trusted SUSA (given their solid track record), but I did trust them. I got burned, and got burned bad.

Give Markos Moulitsas some credit for full disclosure, at least.  It would have been very easy for dKos to quietly drop Research 2000 as their pollster and put their resources into a more worthy vendor without ever explaining why.  That would have certainly cost them less than hiring attorneys to sue the pollster.  Given the fact that the firm claims to be operating “out of a Kinko’s office,” it seems less than certain that Markos will ever see much of his money returned to him, assuming he can prove fraud, which is not an easy task.

I’m also not inclined to crow over the failure of dKos polling.  That ship had sailed long ago anyway, and Markos knew it, which is why he launched an independent study of the data.  Political campaigns commission their own polls and so do traditional media outlets.  If Markos had the resources to do the same, why not?  It allowed him to play with the bigger outlets, although in the end the task proved beyond his ability to manage it.  Still, one never knows until one tries.

He also makes another good point:

Sure, our friends on the Right will get to take some cheap shots, and they should take advantage of the opportunity. But ultimately, this episode validates the reason why we released the internal numbers from Research 2000 — and why every media outlet should do the same from their pollster; without full transparency of results, this fraud would not have been uncovered. As difficult as it has been to learn that we were victims of that fraud, our commitment to accuracy and the truth is far more important than shielding ourselves from cheap shots from the Right.

Again, I’m disinclined to take cheap shots, mainly because Research 200o did have an existing clientele that lent respectability to their product.  It’s also important to note that this is Markos’ take, and that the firm itself will probably have a very different position on the end of their relationship.  But Markos is right when he warns that pollsters should provide full transparency for their surveys so that people can assess performance properly, such as sample size, question formulation, demographics, and so on.  Without that information, polls can easily manipulate both respondents and readers alike.

The only criticism that comes to mind is the lawsuit itself.  Why bother?  Markos would be better advised to cut his losses.

Update: Research 2000 denies all of the allegations:

R2K president Del Ali tells TPMmuckraker in an email, “I have much to say, however, I am following my attorney Richard Beckler’ ESQ’s counsel and referring all questions to him. I will tell you unequivocally that we conducted EVERY poll properly for the Daily Kos.”

Update (AP): I’ve linked Kos’s R2000 polls on HA before so I owe our readers a mea culpa for having passed along (possibly) bad info. Mea culpa!

That book of his is going to be rather highly nuanced indeed, huh?


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