Thursday, October 30, 2014

Connect the dots on Marqutte Poll, and a pro-Walker result makes sense

I wanted to follow up from my article yesterday on the flawed analysis of what Marquette University called a “likely voter” (and we're already near 1,000 page views since I posted it). Let's flash back to 2012, to give you some perspective on why my BS detector was going off when I saw media running with the “Walker by 7” result that is nowhere near reality.

Let me guide you to a couple of articles showing how the Marquette Poll came to be, and the people who started it up. First of all, take a look at Bruce Murphy’s column in Urban Milwaukee from October 2012 where he described how the right-wing oligarchs at the Bradley Foundation got their stink tank at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute in bed with PoliSci professors in Wisconsin.
[Then-WPRI President George] Lightbourn brought on Ken Goldstein, a highly regarded professor of political science at UW-Madison with a national reputation as a top pollster, who was a frequent expert guest on broadcast media shows. Goldstein’s polls — which included surveys of cell phone users — didn’t come cheaply. The WPRI’s federal tax form for 2010 shows it paid him $398,250 for the year.

But liberals were suspicious of the university lending its name — and star scholar — to a conservative think tank. Scot Ross, who then ran the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now, requested Goldstein’s emails with Lightbourn, and found a couple eyebrow raisers, as the Associated Press reported....

In reaction, UW officials asked the WPRI to stop using the university’s logo and stopped providing graduate students to work on these polls. Within a year, Goldstein stopped doing polls for WPRI and soon took a job as president of Kantar Media CMAG, a Washington, DC-based political consulting firm. He also teaches at George Washington University.

Not long after this the Marquette Law School cut a deal with Goldstein’s longtime colleague at UW-Madison’s Political Science Department, Charles Franklin, to do polls for MU. Franklin, who co-founded, is also highly regarded nationally, and has a deal to do polls through the entire 2012 year.
And the Journal-Sentinel then cut a deal with Franklin to have him as sort of their in-house pollster under the guise of his job at Marquette Law School. In addition, the J-S hired WPRI hack Christian Schneider as a regular columnist, and allowed Mike Nichols to continue to have regular column space in their paper after Nichols replaced Lightbourn as WPRI’s president in 2013. Between that and the pro-GOP and anti-Burke framing from “watchdogs” like Dan Bice and the increasingly absurd “Politi-crap” segment, and you wonder why we think there might be a right-wing bias afloat down at Fourth and State in Milwaukee?

Now let’s go back to One Wisconsin Now’s lawsuit to get UW-Madison’s open records on its deal with WPRI and Ken Goldstein’s polls in 2010. Here’s what the people at OWN found out.
Scot Ross, a liberal muckraker who runs the group One Wisconsin Now, was critical of the deal from the beginning. He said his "worst fears were confirmed" after he obtained e-mails under the open records law showing WPRI President George Lightbourn lobbied Goldstein to publicize results from one question in a way favorable to its agenda.

The question asked whether government funding should be used for school vouchers, which WPRI supports. A majority of residents statewide were opposed, but those surveyed from Milwaukee County were in favor.

Lightbourn wrote Goldstein he was concerned critics would portray the data as showing a lack of support for vouchers and asked for the Milwaukee County results to be emphasized. The university's press release read: "School choice remains popular in Milwaukee."

And of course, Franklin’s setup with the private Marquette Law School comes with the perk of the public not having the right to know what’s really happening (much like the issues relating to Scott Walker leaving the school in 1990, come to think of it). In 2012, Ed Garvey at the old Fighting Bob blog discussed the ability to get info on these polls from UW and Marquette, with some interesting differences in disclosure.
We were intrigued by the partnership and asked the UW legal department, under Open Records, to provide all the details to Fighting Bob [in 2010]. The UW complied. We read the documents and learned a lot. For example, WPRI and UW Poli Sci tried to remain outside the reach of open records. Transparency was not a goal! They actually put in the memorandum of understanding that indeed they could keep all the information from the public. The memos were fascinating because it was clear that Poli Sci would do the heavy lifting but WPRI would own the material, frame the questions, own the results, and would give the poll results the "spin" desired. And WPRI could simply toss the results they didn't like, and no one would ever know. The partners agreed that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Dave Umhoefer would get the data before any other reporters. After his story was written, other media people could obtain the polling results. JS pants on fire, soul missing in action.

But when the partners realized that their work would be subject to Open Records, the partnership immediately dissolved. They would find a new way to hide the polling material. Aha, go to private school Marquette--not covered by open records! Huzzah. Poli Sci prof Charles Franklin became ubiquitous throughout the recall process. The Journal Sentinel used the Franklin information to inform who was leading, who was behind, etc. The voters had no choice but to accept the Marquette findings.

We asked who was paying for the Marquette Law School poll but never got an answer. We asked who staffed the Marquette Law School polling operation. No response. Back to the money. It costs about $10,000 to do the calling for each poll. Who pays? Who designs the poll? Who frames the questions asked?
Hmmm, and notice Franklin always asks a few voucher questions in each of his Marquette Law polls, and he never mentions the reality that vouchers take away state funding from Wisconsin public schools. You don’t think the Jesuits at Marquette (whose schools benefit from voucher funding) and other Bradley Foundation-related funders of the Marquette Law Poll might want a certain outcome on that question, just like they did in 2010? I’m not saying Franklin’s lying or covering up when it comes to the voucher issue or pro-voucher candidates (like Scott Walker), I’m just saying it’s an interesting parallel to what happened with Goldstein at UW-Madison.

I’d also strongly encourage you to read Dom Noth’s write-up of the Marquette Poll and the pro-Walker Journal-Sentinel’s slavish devotion to it as the “facts on the ground.” Remarkably, Noth wrote this article 2 days BEFORE the last Marquette Law Poll.
The pollster and opinion makers recently discussed their thinking in an interesting Milwaukee Press Club panel. Watch carefully though and you will see justification rather than explanation for how well Burke as a political newcomer is doing against those entrenched politicos. Charles Franklin doesn’t dwell on the reasons (his final Marquette poll comes out Oct. 29), perhaps because he realizes that he got far more JS coverage when Walker was five points ahead Oct. 3 rather than recently when Burke eliminated the gap (and is ahead in some respected polling models).

But here’s a funny and it comes right back to JS honesty. Another respected polling company, Gravis based in Florida, had Burke up five points the same week Marquette had Walker up five points, yet not a mention in JS. The Gravis people told me they noticed and were amused since they thought their sample and methods were as comprehensive. (also noteworthy is how Gravis reversed course, and said they had a bad sample in their original poll, “correcting” to a 4-point Walker lead days after Marquette Law had “Walker +5.” No sketchiness there.)

There are unnoticed reasons why JS is playing up the Marquette poll so heavily. First, it is local and it is reputable, run by a university. But it is also advised by former Journal Communications regulars Mike Gousha and Alan Borsuk. During their tenure Journal Communications had its own expensive and careful Journal polling division, regularly used to headline newspaper and TV opinion reports, much as Marquette’s poll is used now. A private university has filled the gap of the newspaper’s fading fortunes and is being pumped into prominence equally hard.
Note that the oligarchical interests of Marquette Law and the Journal-Sentinel would likely be helped with a Walker re-election, and is it really ridiculous to think they might be encouraging a tweak there and a nudge here with this big newsmaking poll?

I freely admit that I may be biased and off-base here, and maybe there’s nothing sneaky going on. I credit Charles Franklin with making his poll results as available and in-depth as he does, because I wouldn’t have discovered the reasons behind the odd disparity between the two sets of polls yesterday if that wasn’t the case. Maybe all Franklin is guilty of is the innocent mistake of an overly-restrictive “likely voter” screen that overestimated Scott Walker’s support, and underestimated Mary Burke’s.

But you should admit that the 6-point gap between “likely” and “registered” voters in that poll gives Franklin an out regardless of what happens with the November 4 results. If Walker somehow wins by 5 points or more (which is well above what most thought the race stood a few days ago), any sketchiness in that number could be covered up by saying “See, the Marquette Law Poll said he was pulling away.” Likewise if the election results are close and/or Burke wins, Franklin could say, "Well, I did have it be a 1-point race with registered voters, and that’s within the margin of error. Looks like Dems that supported Burke ended up turning out."

Hey, you can credit Franklin’s registered and (to a lesser extent) likely voter polls for ending up right in 2012, and that is worthy of lending some creedence to these numbers (although I noted, MU Law was way off in the two presidential polls prior to the final one in October 2012). I also look at the interests of the people paying his salary for these polls and combine it with the pro-Walker bias that has been endemic to the Journal-Sentinel in this 2014 campaign, and that poll has an awful strong whiff of BS to it.

Bottom line, let’s get out and vote on November 4, and don’t let the sketchiness of one poll out of numerous ones that have been taken be something that prevents history from taking place.

1 comment:

  1. That Walker poll is a smokescreen to discourage voters particularly Milwaukee voters from going to the polls. Then the swiftboat smear attack on MB. Finally this too little, too late crap CYA piece from the MJS. All meant to discourage and burn out 'likely voters'.

    I'm steaming right now. Y'all better get your fannies out and vote!