09/20/2006 04:53 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Glover Park, Rip-off Strategists and Unethical Behavior in the Polling Community

Sorry to bring up net neutrality again, but we're really in the final stages of putting the nail in the coffin for the Stevens legislation.  Senator Sununu is predicting that it will be delayed into 2007, which means a rewrite of the bill and the possibility of getting an affirmative net neutrality regulation into the bill.  We're close to winning this stage, in other words.  The telecom people know this, and have changed tactics.  The most recent idea is to release a poll that purports to show that the public really wants the Stevens legislation passed.  The idea is that rather than argue on the merits of net neutrality, an argument the telecom companies have already lost, they will argue that the Stevens bill is really really popular.   Core to the credibility of the poll is the notion that the firms who did the poll come from both sides of the aisle and tha the poll is therefore bipartisan.  I'll get to that at the end of the post, but I want to actually show why the conclusions from the survey don't actually make sense.

First, some context.  Net neutrality is the single most controversial piece of the bill and the only piece that has gotten any free media or organizing push behind it.  If Americans have heard of the bill, they probably would have heard of net neutrality.  Given this fact, the poll is self-discreding on its face, because according to the Glover Park Group the data seems to say that only 8% of the voting public has heard of net neutrality but that the voting public by overwhelming margins wants the Stevens bill passed.  The telcos are trying to prove that (a) the public hasn't heard of the debate and doesn't care about net neutrality and (b) the public has heard of the debate and wants a new telecom bill passed.  It's slightly more complicated than this, but that's the general idea.  You can read the poll yourself, and it's clear from the way that the survey is structured that it is leading to a false conclusion of popular support for this legislation.

Anyway, I didn't think that this poll would be taken seriously by anyone.  Apparently I was wrong.  So here's a fuller debunking of the poll by Joel Wright, a professional pollster who has, you know, standards.

1. Question wording is pathetic and is clearly geared toward positive responses. Example: in the Likelihood of More Choice question, there are no negative impacts tested. All are positive impacts, so they're telegraphing to respondents that positives are the only possible result. The question they ask is how likely those positive impacts are. Bullshit research.

2. Do a double ditto on the above when it comes to the next question: Importance of Leg. Elements. The stem specifically and only notes passage of the legislation and then only the BENEFITS of that passage. This is beyond pathetic, it's close to unethical in a purported 'objective' survey.

3. The loaded nature is 'proven', as close as you can get to it, in their own data. In the Want Senator to Vote For/Against Question. 80 to 5? Get outta here. You don't get 80/5 on anything. In particular the low against (5) is a clear indicator of biased questions. There're more people UNSURE (15%) than against. This is an absurd result.

4. And then there's the last question wording. Jeepers this is crap. The wording literally describes a benefit for consumers and a negative for consumers' providers (barring broadband providers from offering services) as the choice. So the choice is benefit for you vs. a negative for your provider. Whaa? Of course consumers jump on their own benefit given that, for one thing. More importantly though, providers win, regardless of how people respond. This IS unethical.

5. In my view, the big kicker is comparing the national data to the states. Example: in the Want Senator to Vote For/Against, their data show national For: 80%, PA: 84%, OH: 80%, MO: 80%. With a margin of error of 5 points for the state data, they're telling us there is NO significant variation in ANY state surveyed from the national numbers. Beyond bullshit.  This shows a question designed to elicit high numbers for them. No variation IS A PROBLEM. Harder case to make to the press, but true nonetheless.

So who is doing this unethical and poorly done poll?  Well none other than our friends at the Glover Park Group and Public Opinions Strategies.  Here's part of the press release from Senator Ted Stevens' Commerce Committee.

Bill McInturf, co-founder of Public Opinion Strategies, and Amy Phee, partner at The Glover Park Group presented the bipartisan survey's results. The Glover Park Group is headed by Joe Lockhart, former press secretary to President Bill Clinton, and is widely used by Democratic strategists. Public Opinion Strategies has conducted polling for a variety of Republican candidates including Republican presidential hopefuls. - Senate Commerce Committee press release

Ah, don't you just love the Glover Park Group?  In June, they release a memo arguing that Democrats shouldn't take on the prescription drug fiasco even as the company is paid by health care interests.  And now they are doing downright unethically worded polling with Republican polling firms pushing for the end of net neutrality.  What's striking though is not the work they do, but the dishonest way they market their work as coming from important Democratic sources.  Lockhart is using his position as former Clinton White House press secretary to add credibility to the study, and Amy Phee is using her position as a former employee of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research to do so as well.  

Core to the credibility of this poll is that the two firms that did it come from opposite sides of the aisle.  Public Opinion Strategies is a right-wing polling outfit and clearly unethical in their business work.  They will and should suffer for their lack of ethics around the data they put out.  Still, it's Glover Park that enables Senator Stevens and Verizon in this tactic by allowing them to pay for the bipartisanship dishonesty they need to pull off this PR strategy.

At this point, there's a serious credibility problem emerging with the Glover Park Group.  Twice now they have proven their willingness to put out bad information in service of powerful interests while masquerading as Democratic strategists.  Carter Eskew, a key aide to Lieberman in the primary, and Howard Wolfson, a senior advisor to Senator Clinton, work at Glover Park, so this is a powerful group of Democrats.  It's time for Democratic clients of this organization and ethical partners within Glover Park itself to put a stop to the dishonest tactics.  It's fairly clear that the Glover Park's main asset is its credibility, and that's going to die pretty quickly if they keep doing stuff like this.  In addition, this unethical lobbying behavior is going to tag politicians like Senator Clinton who are in favor of net neutrality, and those like Kirsten Gillibrand, who are using Glover Park-allied firms or personnel to make their political decisions.  It's bad for everyone involved, and it needs to stop.