June 30th, 2010

BREAKING NEWS: One-Time WCAX Pollster, Longtime DailyKos Standard, Disavowed As Fraudulent; Question Now Begged, Whither Polling In Vermont?

by Philip Baruth

Some fairly heavy news just broke: DailyKos is disavowing their standard polling outfit, Research 2000, as a result of an investigation conducted by several outside researchers, an investigation which determined that the firm’s conclusions could only have relied on fabricated data.

Markos, while clearly in damage control mode, makes it clear that he’s thought through the implications and is more than ready to let the chips fall where they may.

Preferably on the heads of those running Research 2000.

A shock wave, given that I and millions of others relied on the DK/Research 2000 tracking poll through the last election cycle. As a blogger myself, I took a small but measurable bit of pride in the idea that a national left-wing blog had reached the point where it could field polls where they were needed, for all the world like the Chicago Tribune or the New York Times.

But here’s the deeper shocker. In pointing out that DailyKos wasn’t the only outfit duped by Research 2000, Markos notes the firm’s reputation for veracity and accuracy:

“I want to feel stupid for being defrauded, but fact is Research 2000 had a good reputation in political circles. Among its clients the last two years have been KCCI-TV in Iowa, WCAX-TV in Vermont, WISC-TV in Wisconsin, WKYT-TV in Kentucky, Lee Enterprises, the Concord Monitor, The Florida Times-Union, WSBT-TV/WISH-TV/WANE-TV in Indiana, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Bergen Record, and the Reno Gazette-Journal.

That’s right: WCAX, right here at home.

Now, couple of things: WCAX does not rely exclusively on Research 2000, and their association with the firm was never as tight as was the relationship at Daily Kos. Still, WCAX will be obliged to note the problem, and announce it to their viewers.

But to my mind, it raises a further question, and one more pressing in the current cycle. Thus far, Rasmussen polling has utterly dominated the news in the 2010 six-way gubernatorial race. Sure, the news accounts have qualified Rasmussen’s Right-leaning results by noting the thoroughgoing skepticism with which the firm is viewed on the Left.

But frankly, that’s just not good enough.

Rasmussen’s polls have allowed Brian Dubie to claim frontrunner status for the last six months or better. No single sentence disclaiming their well-documented tilt to the Right can match the import of a winner’s headline.

Especially a headline repeated at regular intervals.

So in the wake of this Research 2000 story, which is only now breaking in Vermont, I think it’s fair for the larger state media outlets, which have been having great fun sniping at the candidates and their gaffes and stretches and foibles, most especially in the gubernatorial race, to ask themselves some genuine, deep and searching questions regarding the nature of polling in a state the size of ours.

Fair is fair, folks.

As a candidate this cycle, I’ve taken my share of probing and ribbing in the media, but it’s been nothing compared to what the Democrats running for Governor have taken, and all five of them have kept smiling. Dubie, pumped up by Rasmussen’s questionable numbers, has stiffed both the press and voters interested in debate, yet the press has more or less allowed Dubie to do so because, in a strangely circular logic, that’s what Dubie does.

But turnabout is fair play.

This story is the mainstream media’s own moment of transparency and full disclosure, journalism’s own test of vision and honesty and fire in the belly. Will the Research 2000 melt-down lead to a reassessment of polling in the state? Will Rasmussen continue to write the cycle’s gubernatorial narrative almost single-handedly?

Tough to say at this point. But one thing is clear: if nothing comes of this revelation, and polling in Vermont maintains its current flabby, know-nothing quality, the voters won’t get a say in the matter come August, or November.

Just doesn’t work that way.