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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Daily Kos burned by Research 2000

As longtime readers know, we at NPI are fond of putting big disclaimers in any posts we write about polling, reflecting that the only real polls in politics take place on Election Day. Because we don't put much stock in polling, we don't fall into the trap of becoming obsessed with horse race coverage, and we don't run the risk of getting burned because we relied on faulty data.

That's what apparently happened to Daily Kos:
I have just published a report by three statistics wizards showing, quite convincingly, that the weekly Research 2000 State of the Nation poll we ran the past year and a half was likely bunk.

Since the moment Mark Grebner, Michael Weissman, and Jonathan Weissman approached me, I took their concerns seriously and cooperated fully with their investigation. I also offered to run the results on Daily Kos provided that they 1) fully documented each claim in detail, 2) got that documentation peer reviewed by disinterested third parties, and 3) gave Research 2000 an opportunity to respond. By the end of last week, they had accomplished the first two items on that list. I held publication of the report until today, because I didn't want to partake in a cliche Friday Bad News Dump. This is serious business, and I wasn't going to bury it over a weekend.
Markos concludes:
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.
Markos also announced that Daily Kos (incorporated as Kos Media LLC) will be filing suit against Research 2000 this week, on several counts, including breach of contract and fraud. It appears that Research 2000 will have its day in court, as Del Ali and his company have signaled that they intend to countersue and vigorously defend themselves against all charges. So far, they haven't been forthcoming with an explanation, let alone data that might exculpate them.

What's more, they and the law firm that is representing them have lashed out and tried to intimidate Nate Silver of (who has commented on the matter) by sending a frivolous cease and desist letter, demanding that "damaging" blog posts and tweets Nate quoted about Research 2000 be taken down. Nate has published the letter he received for his readers to see.

The guy responsible for sending that cease and desist letter — Richard Beckler — also made some rather sweeping and unsubstantiated statements about Markos to Talking Points Memo:
Ali's attorney, Richard Beckler of Howrey LLP in Washington, told TPMmuckraker in an interview, "This guy is completely all wet. This allegation of fraud is absurd." He added, "These guys are basically ruining Mr. Ali's business."

Beckler promised to take "some kind of action soon against all of them" -- referring to Kos and the three authors of the analysis calling R2K's data into question. He declined to elaborate. Beckler also questioned the credentials of the three authors -- who Kos called "statistic wizards" -- Mark Grebner, Michael Weissman, and Jonathan Weissman. They are respectively described in the Kos post as political consultant, a retired physicist, and a wildlife research technician.
Ali himself has denied to media outlets that he did anything wrong while promising to bring about "the end" of Daily Kos:
Del Ali, president of Research 2000 in Olney, Md., said he could not respond to the specific allegations Tuesday and referred questions to his attorney, who did not return a call seeking comment.

"I can tell you, we're fine. What we're going to reveal, that will be the end of the Daily Kos," Ali said. "I can say, it has to do with people owing money."
How much money would that be? TPM again:
Beckler claimed that Kos "wont even pay his [expletive] bill. He owes [Ali] $50, $60, $70,000 dollars, something in that neighborhood."
So Beckler is asserting Markos owes his client tens of thousands of dollars, but he doesn't know how many tens of thousands. He can't name a figure. His ballpark estimate consists of an astonishingly large range. Now there's a priceless quote. Here's Markos' response (which you'll find at the TPM link above):
I wish this was a dispute about billing, because whether we've paid or not is irrelevant to the fact that they didn't deliver the polling they were supposed to. Do they really want to argue that a billing dispute justifies delivering false data?

By the way, that $50-70,000 number is nonsense. We've paid for all the polling we were supposed to have received.
If Research 2000 is a legitimate polling firm and has nothing to hide, why did it fail to produce the raw data that it promised to send Markos and Messrs. Grebner, Weissman, and Weissman? According to Markos, one of the excuses offered by Del Ali was that their computers were down and they were operating out of a Kinko's (now FedEx Office) store.

That sounds pretty strange to me. Don't they keep backups of their data they can access in the event of hard drive failure, or fire, or some other emergency?

By the way, Daily Kos isn't the only progressive organization that has contracted with Research 2000: so have MoveOn, Democracy for America, and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC).

A little over a year ago, Del Ali actually invited NPI to hire Research 2000 to do polling "which would be exclusive to you and your readers", using its relationship with Daily Kos as a selling point. His message was as follows:
From: Del Ali
Sent: Monday, May 4th, 2009 5:20:46 AM
Subject: polling

We, Research 2000 ( are the polling firm which conducts weekly polls for the Daily Kos. I was wondering if you would have any interest in having our firm conduct local polling which would be exclusive to you and your readers. Feel free to contact me via email or at [phone number redacted].

Thank you - Del Ali, Research 2000 President
2009 3 Free CREDIT SCORES: See Your 3 Credit Scores from All 3 Bureaus FREE!
We ignored his offer. We've talked about possibly doing our own public opinion research, but we have never been interested in using our limited resources to commission the kind of traditional polling Daily Kos contracted for. Now we're doubly glad that we have a very healthy skepticism of polling.


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