Franken campaign, liberal blogs rap KSTP poll, but independent pollster says criticism too harsh

Al Franken
Al Franken

KSTP aired a poll last night showing Norm Coleman running ahead of Al Franken in the Minnesota Senate race by 52-42 percent. On another question, 59 percent of respondents said they were less likely to vote for Franken knowing that he had recently paid back taxes to 17 states, and on a third question, 51 percent said Franken should drop out of the race.

The Franken campaign complained that question wording used by KSTP’s pollster, Survey USA (SUSA), omitted key information that biased the results, which KSTP mentioned in its piece.

Liberal blogs MNPublius and MNBlue went further and accused KSTP of conducting a “push poll” motivated by the Republican affiliation of KSTP’s owners.

Minneapolis-based polling expert Rob Daves said this morning that the “push poll” label was way over the top. A push poll is a serious abuse, but the SUSA poll has none of the key earmarks.

Daves, who was the longtime director of the Strib’s Minnesota Poll, is also the past president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and now runs Daves and Associates Research.

Not all poll news bad for Franken
The horse race poll is actually not bad news for Franken. Coleman led by 10 points, which was the same margin SUSA found the last time it polled, in March. No doubt Franken preferred earlier polls that showed him tied with Coleman, but he can argue that the recent bad publicity about back taxes hasn’t hurt in the horse race, as measured by SUSA.

While the horse race poll was based on responses from 615 registered voters, the poll asking specifically about the tax matter (PDF) was based on 500 Minnesota adults, a small sample that includes nonregistered voters.

The question used was:

“Al Franken the DFL candidate for U.S. Senate said he will pay about $70,000 in back income taxes to 17 states for incorrectly filing his tax returns over a five-year period. He also paid a fine to the state of New York for not paying for workers compensation insurance for workers he employed there. Knowing this, would you be more likely to vote for Al Franken for U.S.Senate? Less likely? Or would it not make a difference?”

Team Franken’s complaint, amplified by the friendly bloggers, was that the question left out a key claim: that Franken actually paid the taxes he owed, but paid them to the wrong states. If respondents accept that claim, it should negate any belief that Franken was trying to evade his taxes and reduce the controversy to a mistake.

‘Push poll’ claim not true
After looking at the question and the polls, Daves said it was a long way from a push poll. AAPOR lists several qualities of a push poll. It is not a poll at all, but an excuse to inject a negative message about a candidate into the public in the guise of a poll question. No sampling methodology is followed, since the idea is not to conduct a real poll. Also, the results of a push poll are never published, the outfit conducting the poll doesn’t identify itself and the wording of the phony question is not released.

To their credit, Daves said, SUSA and KSTP have published the question and the methodology so anyone can decide for themselves whether to credit the poll.

It is not uncommon or improper, when a controversy has broken into the news, for legitimate pollsters to ask whether this makes people more or less likely to support a candidate. After reading the KSTP/SUSA question, Daves said it certainly could have been phrased other ways and other word choices might have affected the outcome.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Derek Reise on 05/05/2008 - 02:36 pm.

    I’m a DFLer who up to recently supported Al Franken. I now simply wonder if he is the best candidate in light of recent developments.

    This poll is troubling for DFLers who want to take back Paul Wellstone’s seat. I thought the wording of the question is entirely valid. If these results are replicated in another poll, DFL delegates should take their heads out of the sand and look for an alternative to go against Coleman.

  2. Submitted by Tommy Johnson on 05/05/2008 - 01:29 pm.

    So, the short story is that criticism of the SUSA survey is merited as SUSA used poor phrasing.

  3. Submitted by Laura Waterman Wittstock on 05/05/2008 - 02:01 pm.

    Polling on recent news depends on wide readership and media reach to average Minnesotans expected to vote in the senate race. That’s a lot of iffs to cover by the poll.

    The Republicans have become adept at digging for specific information on opponents that might or can derail campaigns. If mistakes were made and taxes were paid, where is the issue? True, Mr. Franken could have had greater supervision of his accountant(s) but failing to do so is not a mortal blow to the campaign.

    KSTP is a known Republican leaning corporation. It is really too bad that they are functioning this way, as a colleague of those who intend to push the Franken campaign over the edge.

    It won’t succeed is my guess.

  4. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 05/05/2008 - 04:13 pm.

    Derek Reise: Check out Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer. He has been wowing audiences at debates and delegates to senate district conventions, but until recently much of the media wasn’t paying much attention. (Franken was pre-ordained, just as Hillary Clinton seemed to me some months ago.) Jack served as one of Paul Wellstone’s foreign policy advisors and, as such, helped him reach the decision to vote against the Iraq War. That alone would be reason enough to vote for him, but there’s much more at jackforsenate.org.

  5. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/05/2008 - 04:37 pm.

    The poll cited verified facts regarding an issue that have been front and center for more than two weeks.

    To have added verbage to the effect that “Al has paid every penny he ever owed” is to have added a statement from a source (Franken, himself) that has been found lacking in veracity on several occasions (remember his claim not to have known about the Gloria Wise charity scam?).

    Al’s supporters may not like it, but this poll was as up front as any.

  6. Submitted by Tommy Johnson on 05/06/2008 - 08:19 am.

    Grace Kelly @ MnBlue has a new post on why she feels the KSTP / SUSA poll is disingenuous:

    KSTP Push Polling By AAPOR Standards
    View Edit Track
    Submitted by Grace Kelly on May 5, 2008 – 6:52pm.

    http://www.mnblue.com/node/1474

  7. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 05/06/2008 - 08:51 am.

    http://www.surveyusa.com/client/PollReport.aspx?g=4f58436e-0d9d-4565-b3f4-3e059c41f734

    Do you think Al Franken should remain in the race for US Senate? Or do you think Franken should withdraw from the race?

    51% say he should withdraw.

  8. Submitted by Kevin Judd on 05/07/2008 - 11:31 pm.

    Sounds to me like the poll is valid. Anyone who has not yet heard Franken’s rebuttal to the claim is not following the issue closely. If Franken is nominee, this issue (including the Republican ‘take’) will hit the air waves big time. The poll tells us that people will be swayed.

    Bottom line: if Franken is the nominee, the DFL is going to spend the entire campaign, and lots of money, fighting this issue. It’s bad luck, and unfair, but the issue must be addressed.

  9. Submitted by Justin Adams on 05/09/2008 - 03:33 pm.

    What a joke.

    This poll was designed to get a high percentage response for an outlandish suggestion. The motivation was twofold – political gain and material gain.

    It is no different than a study funded by a drug company. KSTP and Hubbard are known as Coleman supporters, and they took a political cheap shot and called it legitimate reporting.

    The particular timing of the poll finds disgruntled JNP supporters propping up the ‘should drop out of race’ statistic, people who will surely still be supporting Franken when it comes to be November.

    Mr. Daves has nice credentials and all. But I think his definition of ‘push poll’ is designed to exclude this circumstance. If you judge someone and then ask someone how they judge the same person, it doesn’t take a polling expert to tell what will happen. People are suggestible.

  10. Submitted by John E Iacono on 05/11/2008 - 04:30 pm.

    Polls make money for those who conduct them.

    Polls are snapshots of a given moment at best, and are not really predictive unless the margins are huge — and even then they can err, as we all know.

    Polls are affected not only be the wording of questions (which is often affected by the leanings of the pollsters), but by the polled person selection process, the size of the poll, the tone of voice used by the polling persons, the time of day when calls are made, and quite a few other controllable variables not measured.

    Although polling techniques have been somewhat improved, it remains problematic to assess even the fairness of a poll, let alone its accuracy.

    For myself, the only poll I will consider is the one on election day. The rest, to my mind, is fluff not worth getting roiled about.

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