Research Group Censures an ’08 Primary Pollster

Sep 23, 2009 10:28am

The country’s leading association of public opinion researchers issued a rare censure today, saying an Atlanta-based pollster, Strategic Vision, had violated its code of professional conduct by failing to release basic disclosure of its methodology in 2008 pre-election surveys.

The firm’s non-disclosure “was inconsistent with the association’s Code of Professional Ethics and Practices and contrary to basic principles of scientific research,” the American Association for Public Opinion Research said in a statement.

Strategic Vision was the only one of 21 firms included in an AAPOR review of 2008 pre-primary polls that failed to provide sufficient methodological disclosure “in response to AAPOR’s repeated direct requests,” the association said.

I’ve called and e-mailed Strategic Vision for comment.

6 p.m. update: This afternoon David Johnson, Strategic Vision’s CEO, denied AAPOR’s charges. “I’m a little confused because we provided them the information on June 19,” he said.

Johnson said an initial request from AAPOR in March or April was discarded because “someone thought it was a sales promotion,” after which “we didn’t hear anything from anybody until June.” After responding to that request, he said, his firm received notice of the censure and requested a meeting to appeal it. AAPOR, he said, first scheduled, then canceled that meeting.

“They never required any additional information or anything. Instead they told us we were being sanctioned,” Johnson said. “We are referring it to the lawyers. It’s malicious because we provided them the information.”

9:30 p.m. update: Stephen J. Blumberg, chair of AAPOR’s Standards Committee, rejected Johnson's defense in an e-mail message this evening. He said Johnson explicitly refused to release the requested materials, then when notified of a violation released only part of them; and that the appeal hearing was canceled when Johnson didn't respond to repeated requests to confirm it. See Blumberg's full statement at the end of this item.

It’s a rare move for AAPOR, which has issued just two other such censures in the last 12 years, one this February against Gilbert Burnham, a faculty member at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, relating to a controversial study of civilian casualties in Iraq; and another, in 1997, against the researcher Frank Luntz, involving data on the “Contract with America” promoted by congressional Republicans. Both, similarly, charged nondisclosure.

AAPOR’s announcement of the Strategic Vision censure today notes that the action does not address the firm’s research practices or the quality or accuracy of its work. “The AAPOR Code does not prescribe particular research methods. Rather, it lays out a set of norms to which anyone engaged in public opinion research should adhere," said its president, Peter V. Miller. "Transparency is one of those norms.”

While employees of Strategic Vision are not AAPOR members, the association described membership as “irrelevant to the applicability of AAPOR’s Code.”

AAPOR said it attempted for more than a year to learn information about Strategic Vision's pre-primary polls in New Hampshire and Wisconsin, including the surveys’ sponsor, who conducted them, and methodological questions including the sampling frame, the definition of likely voters, response rates and weighting or estimating procedures. After receiving word of pending censure, it said, Strategic Vision “offered partial but incomplete information,” with no details of response rates and procedures used in weighting or estimating.

In making its announcement, AAPOR also said an updated and final version of its report on the pre-primary polls is now available, here. I'll post some comments on that report down the road.

Full disclosure: I’m a member of AAPOR, past president of its New York chapter and current member of its Code Review Committee.

Blumberg's statement in response to Johnson:

"AAPOR's two initial formal requests for information (March 2008 and September 2008) were sent by Federal Express, which would be unusual for a sales promotion. A third request for information (by e-mail in March 2009) was not discarded. Rather, Mr. Johnson responded with an explicit refusal to provide the requested information.
"On June 12, in response to notification of AAPOR's initial findings of a violation, Mr. Johnson provided some, but not all, of the information requested. The information that still was not provided was detailed in the press release.
"At Mr. Johnson's request, AAPOR did schedule a hearing. Notice of the hearing and a request for confirmation of his intent to appear was provided to Mr. Johnson at least four times, including once by certified mail and once by Federal Express. No confirmation was ever received. Therefore, the hearing was cancelled.
"Mr. Johnson was given ample opportunity to provide all of the requested information or to question AAPOR's conclusions. He did not do so."

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