Last June, the liberal blog Daily Kos sued Research 2000, its pollster since 2007, for allegedly providing fraudulent polling data. A negotiated settlement between the two parties has reportedly fallen through, and Del Ali, president of Research 2000, is now representing himself in the ongoing court battle.
On the morning of June 29, Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas posted a blog entry denouncing Research 2000 (also known as R2K) for defrauding his company and announcing that he was filing a civil suit against the polling firm. To back up his claims, Moulitsas appended a study conducted by polling experts Mark Grebner, Michael Weissman and Jonathan Weissman, who found that R2K’s polling results exhibited consistent evidence of having been intentionally massaged. “The collection of week-to-week changes, in which one particular small change (zero) occurs far too rarely,” the experts wrote in their report. “This test is particularly valuable because the reports exhibit a property known to show up when people try to make up random sequences.”
In his blog post announcing the lawsuit, Moulitsas was clearly frustrated with his former pollster. “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,” he wrote. Moulitsas added that R2K was unable to provide an explanation for the appearance of fraud and reported that the firm claimed at one point that it was unable to produce its raw data because its computers were down and the firm was operating out of a Kinko’s.
The allegations of fraud by R2K came as a shock to many in the polling community. R2K had been known as a generally transparent polling firm that made no effort to hide its cross-tabulations or sub-populations, the respondent data that populates a poll and reveals a pollster’s methodology.
Adam Geller, founder and CEO of the Republican polling firm National Research Inc., says that R2K’s behavior is unacceptable. “This is way beyond a pollster being off, this is beyond an outlier,” says Geller, noting that the pollster should have turned over its data on request, regardless of technical challenges. “It seems like there is literally no data,” says Geller. “There is no other conclusion to reach.” In making thousands of calls for a given poll, pollsters generate an extensive electronic or paper trial. Not being able to produce any evidence of this trail raises a big red flag, Geller says. However, he notes that it will be difficult to prove intentional malice or willful fraud on the part of R2K in court.
Mark Mellman, president and CEO of Democratic polling firm The Mellman Group, says that the polling industry is unlikely to suffer long-term fallout due to R2K’s alleged malfeasance. “Most polling firms are legitimate and work hard,” he says. “However, anytime a firm gets a black eye it raises questions in the public mind about all survey research, and that is unfortunate.” While Mellman refuses to speculate as to why R2K refused to hand over its raw data, he says that Ali’s decision to represent himself in court is probably not a good sign. “When people are representing themselves in court, they either have a lousy case or they are brilliant people,” says Mellman.
Geller notes that this incident is similar to a 2009 case against the polling firm Strategic Vision, in which poll analyst Nate Silver used a “trailing digit analysis” to discover a pattern of data that could not be random. Silver accused the firm of disseminating fraudulent polls, and the firm declined to release raw data to disprove the accusation.
Ali recently told Salon Magazine that his firm is not doing any polling “at this time.” At the very least, Ali’s decision to represent himself in court suggests that the scandal has taken a large financial toll on the once well-respected pollster.
Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org