Monday, June 7, 2010

I love pollsters

As an attorney who practices election/campaign finance law and a campaign consultant, I always find it extremely entertaining when pollsters call me.  Most of the time, I'm more informed on the candidates and issues than the pollster (I've lost track of how many times I've corrected the pronunciation of a candidate's name, or had to hold back laughter and remind myself that the person on the other end of the line is just trying to earn a living by reading a script) and I know I definitely over-analyze and over-think the questions, which usually drives the poor pollster a little batty.

Even before I got into this business, I always tried to make time for political polling calls, on the theory that if someone was so interested in what we little people thought about something that they were willing to pay good money for it, then they might possibly change their behavior based on the results, therefore, by answering the questions, I increase the chances that our elected leaders might actually do what I want them to do.

Anyway, in the past few years, I've become increasingly fascinated by polls.  The results are swayed by so many factors: the sample size, the time of day and day of the week, efforts to match (or not match) the district's true demographics, the wording of the questions, the order of the questions, etc.  Beyond my judgments about whether the poll seems fair, or intended to bring about a particular result, I am also always curious about who is paying for the poll. 

Last night, I got a call from a political pollster.  My notes about the questions asked and my little investigation into the polling company are below the jump...

I received the call shortly after 8:00 p.m.  I did my best to take notes - I grabbed a note pad as soon as I realized it was a political call (yes, I am a giant dork about this stuff).

Here's a photo of the caller ID:

Pollster was a nice young guy with a slight accent, but no problem understanding him.  When I asked, he said the name of the company was "Eastern Research."  Wikipedia says area code 402 is Omaha, Nebraska.  Some Google and reverse number searches l did later led me to "Eastern Research Services, LLC," which is not headquarted in Nebraska, but apparently has calling centers all over the country.

The first question was about how likely I was to vote in the 2010 elections.  Since "I'd walk across hot coals to exercise my right to vote this year" wasn't an option, I picked "highly likely." 

He then asked a series of questions about how closely I was following the election (Obsessive-compulsively!  OK, fine, just say "closely"), and how I planned to vote for Governor (McCollum.  Yes, I'm sure.) and Senate (TEAM MARCO!).

Then I was asked about whether I had a very favorable, somewhat favorable, unfavorable, very unfavorable, or no opinion about the Republican Party, the Democratic Party...and the Tea Party.  I asked the guy whether he meant the "tea party movement" or the "tea party third party" and got the telephone equivalent of a blank stare: dead silence, then a quiet "whaaaa?" and "umm, it doesn't say here."  I ended up assuming he meant tea party movement, and not the fake tea party third party.  

Next, I was asked whether I had a very favorable, somewhat favorable, unfavorable, very unfavorable, or no opinion of Charlie Crist, Kendrick Meek, Marco Rubio, Alex Sink, and Bill McCollum.  The fact that Rick Scott was left off this list started making me suspicious about who was paying for the poll; if it had been McCollum, I assume he'd want information about his primary opponent.  

Then, several questions about whether I thought the federal government's actions were helping or hurting our economy (Devastating! Driving off a cliff!  A total and complete disaster!  Sigh...just put "hurting"), whether I agreed or disagreed with the health care bill (hate pretty much every word in that monstrous pile of paper and would never vote again for any member of Congress who supported it!   Ummm...yeah...I "disagree" with it), and if Charlie Crist were elected to the Senate, do you think he would vote with the Democrats or Republicans more?  ([derisive snort]  Ha.  the Democrats!

The next part of the poll was a long, long list of questions where the pollster read a statement about Crist, Meek, or Rubio and asked whether that was "very likely, likely, unlikely, or very unlikely" to change my mind about how I was voting, or if it would make no difference.  I told the pollster that I had endorsed Marco Rubio an entire year ago, had met him personally, and had hosted a fundraiser for him, so there was absolutely nothing he could say that would change my mind about my vote.  He told me I should probably just say "makes no difference" to everything, but he still had to read each question.  I thought about it, and decided that was the right answer because (1) it was the honest answer, and (2) I was pretty sure that either Crist or Meek was paying for this poll by this point (more on that later) and I didn't feel like helping either campaign figure out which issues were most important to likely Republican voters.

Anyway, many of these "makes no difference to me" questions sounded at least somewhat like push poll questions.  "Supporters of Kendrick Meek say...", "Opponents of Marco Rubio say...", "Charlie Crist has advocated for...", "Kendrick Meek is the only one in the race who...."  The questions seemed very targeted towards specific campaign promises the three candidates had made already, and also focused on what effect a candidate's support of or opposition to Barack Obama's activities would have on my vote.  My impression is also that a lot more negative things were said about Rubio than either Crist or Meek.

At the end of the poll, the guy asked me again who I wanted for Senate (Yep.  Still Rubio).  If anyone answering this poll changes their answer from the beginning to the end of the poll, the polling company will know a lot about what specific issues helped trigger that change.  I was also asked my party affiliation, Republican, Democrat, or something else (neither "libertarian" nor "tea party" nor any other group was specified), the year I was born, my religion, and marital status.  

Thus ended the official poll, and now it was my turn to ask the questions.  
Me: "Who did this poll?  Who is paying for it?"

Pollster guy: "Our company is called Eastern Research."

Me: "But who paid for the poll?  Who hired Eastern Research?"

Pollster guy:  "Umm, we get hired by different clients to take polls..."
Me: "OK, but again, who hired Eastern Research?"

Pollster guy:  "Umm, I can put you through to my supervisor, hang on..."
Supervisor guy: "Hi, this is Eastern Research."

Me: "Who is paying for this poll?"

Supervisor guy: "Our client"
Me: "Who is your client for this poll?"

Supervisor guy: "Feldman."
Me: "Who is Feldman?  Is that a Mr. Feldman, or a Feldman Company?"

Supervisor guy: "Our client is Feldman.  That's all I've got."
Me: "You don't have a specific individual or corporate name?  Any contact information?  A client code?  An invoice number or billing address?"

Supervisor guy: "No, sorry.  You can call our headquarters at  800..."  [I'm going to redact the number here because I'm not trying to harass this company, I just wanted answers.  Anyone who wants the number for their own investigation, contact me.] I called the Eastern Research Headquarters number I was given.  Same questions, all over again...

Me: "Hi, I was just called by your company to take a poll about the Florida Senate candidates.  I was wondering who paid for the poll?"

Headquarters Lady: "Feldman."

Me:  "Who is Feldman?"
Headquarters Lady: "Feldman is our client"

Me: [even though I really wanted to ask her "Who's on First?"]   "Feldman WHO?  Is that a Mr. Feldman, or a Feldman Company?"
Headquarters Lady: "It's Feldman Group."
Me: "[sigh...] OK, but WHO hired Feldman Group to do this poll?  Which candidate or party is paying for this?"

Headquarters Lady: "I'm sorry, I don't have that information.  Just Feldman Group, that's all I've got.   You can call back tomorrow, our client managers are only in during the weekdays, ask for  [name] or [name]."
I'll post an update later if any of the client managers offer any additional enlightening information.

Anyway, I did a Google search for "Feldman Group" and found, a website for "The Feldman Group, Inc.," a company that calls itself "Strategic political research specialists."

While the website never comes out directly and says that the company only works for Democrats, the page link names reveal multiple uses of the phrase "democratic research consultants," and a review of the "Our Clients" page includes local SEIU groups, teachers' unions, state Democratic parties, the Gore and Kerry presidential campaigns, and, in Florida...

Congressman Kendrick Meek (U.S. Senate Candidate)

Well now, isn't that special?  I am very interested to find out if the Meek campaign, or the Florida Democratic Party, or some other group officially paid for the ad.  There's been a lot of gossip about Crist's decision to run as an independent, and if the Democrats will give up on Meek's struggling fundraising to see if they can't do better with Crist (Warning to the FDP:  Charlie ain't exactly what I'd call loyal).  It will also be fun to see if it shows up on anyone's campaign finance reports next quarter.

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