Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bad polling: Daily Kos, Research 2000, and media credibility

As you may have heard already, it seems that Research 2000, the polling firm that has conducted a "State of the Nation" poll for Daily Kos, was, to be blunt, full of shit, according to some statisticians who looked into its work. As Markos Moulitsas himself put it, explaining what happened:

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.

While the investigation didn't look at all of Research 2000 polling conducted for us, fact is I no longer have any confidence in any of it, and neither should anyone else. I ask that all poll tracking sites remove any Research 2000 polls commissioned by us from their databases. I hereby renounce any post we've written based exclusively on Research 2000 polling.

Not good. But, much to his credit, Markos isn't trying to hide anything -- see the post linked/quoted above as well as this one, which looks at what the statisticians uncovered in significant detail -- and, once he learned of the problem, he immediately took action.

My concern is that this whole episode will discredit not just Daily Kos, and not just liberal blogs generally, but any independent/alternative media outlet. The media establishment, particularly in the political world, is already deeply suspicious of, threatened by, and antagonistic towards, non-establishment outlets. In some cases, such suspicion is justified. Certainly not all bloggers, for example, are credible sources of information or thoughtful purveyors of opinion. But the "mainstream" media have their own problems with credibility and thoughtfulness, of course, and, to me, it is essential that the media landscape includes not just establishment outlets (many with a corporate agenda) but alternative voices from across the spectrum. And those alternative voices can be just as essential to political discourse as, say, MSNBC or The Washington Post. And they can be, and must be, just as credible, too.

In this case, Daily Kos may be blamed for publishing fraudulent poll results. The message would be that such alternative voices simply cannot be trusted. Even if they are not blinded by ideology, they are just amateurish. As Markos notes, though, "Research 2000 had a good reputation in political circles," and its clients included a number of "mainstream" media outlets, including network TV affiliates and major newspapers. Josh Marshall, calling the story a "bombshell," concurs: "R2K didn't start out as Kos's pollster. They've been around for some time and had developed a pretty solid reputation."

Which is to say, it wasn't necessarily Kos's fault, and the fraud didn't necessarily happen because Daily Kos, or Markos himself, wanted the results to fit any sort of left-wing agenda. Again, Markos is taking action, with a lawsuit to be filed, and that speaks to the seriousness with which this problem is being addressed. I assume that some on the right (but thankfully not thoughtful conservatives like Ed Morrissey), and perhaps also in the media establishment, will try to turn this against Kos, taking predictable shots, as well as against liberal blogs and independent/alternative media generally, but it seems to me that Markos is being admirably responsible, and responsive, in making sure that his site, an essential destination in the blogosphere (and not just for those on the left), is as credible as possible.

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