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
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 (www.ncpp.org) – 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.
Organizer, The The AE Transparency Pledge