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Open Letter to Americans Elect by William Busa: Poll Match Fails Professional Standards

[Editor’s note: William Busa has asked Irregular Times to share the following open letter to Americans Elect regarding its new “Candidate” page, on which Americans Elect promotes ranked presidential contenders according to their alleged “National Match” with Americans’ values. We’re happy to oblige. – Jim Cook]

To: Kahlil Byrd, CEO, Americans Elect
From: William Busa
Subject: AE’s “Candidates” Section Disappoints. Don’t Treat Us Like Children!
Date: Nov. 13, 2011

Dear Kahlil:

It was with great interest that I learned this week that Americans Elect Corporation’s new ‘Candidates’ section has gone live, even if only just in a provisional form at present.

But I was disappointed, upon inspecting the new Candidates section, to observe that once again Americans Elect Corporation has missed the mark by a wide margin, by withholding vital information and treating its participating members like children, or idiots (or both) – yet again embarrassing itself, and its members, on the public stage.

In this current “beta” version of the Candidates section AECorp claims to match a collection of politicians’ views on topics of the day with “how the nation compares,” as determined by “a national survey by Ipsos Public Affairs.” The obvious intent here is to rank these politicians according to how closely their views match those of the majority of the electorate.

The fatal flaw in this effort to date rests in the Ipsos survey and what we don’t know about it. As Ipsos surely knows, and as AECorp’s pet pollster, Douglas Schoen, certainly knows…and thus, as you should know too, if you’re paying attention to doing your job…an opinion ‘poll’ can produce any arbitrary result imaginable, depending upon how it is constructed and conducted. More importantly, a poll’s results can be useful (if the poll is properly conducted with respect to statistically valid sampling procedures, yielding a defined margin of error) or completely useless (if valid statistical sampling measures are ignored, thus yielding an undefined margin of error). Given how the results of your “national survey” are reported — or, more to the point, not reported — on the Americans Elect Corporation web site, one would currently have to classify your poll in the latter category: completely useless.

Recognizing the importance of transparency in the reporting of survey results, the National Council on Public Polls ( – of which Ipsos Public Affairs is a member – has adopted Principles of Disclosure “designed to insure that consumers of survey results that enter the public domain have an adequate basis for judging the reliability and validity of the results reported.” The minimum information which these Principles call for disclosure on the part of survey publishers include:

• Dates of interviewing
• Sampling method employed (for example, random-digit dialed telephone sample, list-based telephone sample, area probability sample, probability mail sample, other probability sample, opt-in internet panel, non-probability convenience sample, use of any oversampling)
• Population that was sampled (for example, general population; registered voters; likely voters; or any specific population group defined by gender, race, age, occupation or any other characteristic)
• Size of the sample that serves as the primary basis of the survey report
• Size and description of the subsample, if the survey report relies primarily on less than the total sample
• Margin of sampling error (if a probability sample)
• Survey mode (for example, telephone/interviewer, telephone/automated, mail, internet, fax, e-mail)
• Complete wording and ordering of questions mentioned in or upon which the release is based
• Percentage results of all questions reported

In reporting your “national survey” results on the Americans Elect Corporation web site you have failed to provide any of this information, thus making it impossible for readers to judge whether this survey has any merit whatsoever. Because Ipsos Public Affairs is a signatory to these NCPP Principles (and thus, like all other signatories, has promised “to make clear to their clients…the above items should be disclosed,” we may safely conclude that this serious omission is not Ipsos’ doing, but rather reflects Americans Elect Corporation’s conscious decision to withhold these vital data from its members.

Your failure here is just the latest in a long line of unwise decisions on Americans Elect Corporation’s part to withhold information and to shun transparency, while (paradoxically) claiming to work to make the democratic process more transparent and more open. You are embarrassing us (AE’s membership) and you are making yourself look foolish. We hope for speedy and dramatic improvement in your performance.

Please note that I have posted the content of this email on the Americans Elect Corporation member feedback site hosted by Get Satisfaction.


William Busa
Organizer, The The AE Transparency Pledge

6 thoughts on “Open Letter to Americans Elect by William Busa: Poll Match Fails Professional Standards”

  1. Dove says:

    Someone answered the AE survey for the president as if he would never cut any spending, never allow more drilling, never encourage people to become clients of private insurance companies, etc
    They marked his highest priority as education. What has he done for that in a non-ironic way?


    1. Hooligan says:

      Wow. Did that really originate with Obama’s campaign, or are members able to put it in spoofs? It’s just factually off the charts. If he’d wanted tax increases, he would have just vetoed the Bush tax cuts when he had the chance. And if he really thought “Natural resources exist on their own and should be completely protected”, he could have extended the “moratorium” on new permits forever. Instead he just waited cynically till the Deepwater Horizon story was off the front page of the news and got out the rubber-stamper.

      But I guess it would be in character for him to lie.

      1. Jim Cook says:

        The answer, Hooligan, is that NO, it didn’t originate with Obama’s campaign. Some staffers (apparently hired by Americans Elect?) of OnTheIssues decided where Barack Obama stands.

        On more than one of these points, OnTheIssues gets it wrong. Obama has not acted in a manner that suggests “Natural resources exist on their own and should be completely protected,” as you’ve pointed out, Hool. And as Dove pointed out, they have Obama graded as if he isn’t in favor of spending cuts, which he obviously has been.

        How strangely inaccurate. I wonder what Barack Obama’s “National Match” score would be if these items were corrected.

        Can anyone here figure that out?

        1. William Busa says:

          I’m particularly looking forward to the new feature which their “Candidates” page promises: “See where some key figures from American history would stand if they ran today. Coming Soon!” Sheesh…now they’re channeling dead people, too.

          In the interest of truth in advertising they really should consider changing the name of the “Candidates” section to “Stuff we just pulled out of an orifice.” Between the survey being meaningless and the candidates’ positions being completely made-up by anonymous functionaries, a Ouija board would provide more useful insight.

  2. Reuben Lack says:

    AE has opened Public Comments on their Draft Rules – via email. They note this on the their ‘Documents’ page. Link is below:

    1. William Busa says:

      By email…thus rendering open discussion and debate impossible and enabling AE to maintain strict control over the flow of information. Ah, the new face of democracy.

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