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More On Zogby Polling

Demonstrating my honed, Pavlovian response to Schramm’s ringing of the blogging bell, Ruffini raises an interesting point, which I think is probably right in terms of his skepticism of war on Iraq polling and wrong regarding candidate polling. He begins by pointing out that pollster John Zogby’s brother James Zogby writes for the Arab news. This is only a small sliver of the story. James Zogby is the President and Founder of the Arab American Institute. He also co-founded the Palestine Human Rights Campaign and American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. In these roles, he has been a vocal advocate of Arab policy, which includes AAI’s opposition to "unilateral" U.S. action against Iraq. The brothers Zogby are close. John’s office is located at the Arab American Institute, and he is reported to call his brother 10 times per day.

It is therefore not surprising that pollster John, who has also been vocal in the past about Arab-American issues, should oppose action in Iraq. Anytime a pollster has a horse in the race, there is reason to scrutinize his polls (which is why the media pays less attention to polls conducted by the political parties). If, as Ruffini reports, Zogby is asking questions which include "sending your sons and daughters" to die or refer to the death of thousands of Americans, then he is obviously slanting the questions to increase the opposition numbers. Even so, in a white paper announced yesterday, Zogby concedes that 70 percent of "Americans consider Saddam Hussein a threat to the safety and security of the US." He also suggests that "Americans have expressed that they do not feel the [Iraq] debate is a matter of political timing, and [ ] they do perceive Hussein’s Iraq as a legitimate threat . . . ." He does, however, go on to question whether Bush will win points in 2004 based upon this action, and suggests that the press have drawn the wrong conclusions by asking the wrong questions. Thus, I would simply suggest that readers look at the questions Zogby asks in Iraq polls before drawing conclusions.

Ruffini goes a step further and asks whether this may have an impact on Zogby’s candidate polling. Here I have my doubts. First, Ruffini fails to consider that James Zogby also was a confidant of President Clinton, and served on the DNC’s Executive Committee in 1999. Using the same logic of a brother’s influence, why is it that brother John’s polls don’t unduly favor Democrats? John has built a reputation as being the straightest shooter among the pollsters: he was the only pollster to call the 1994 Republican landslide, and his findings regarding a razor-thin Gore popular vote edge in 2000 were also among the, if not the most accurate. While men may be blinded by their passions, self-interest here serves as a check: John obviously knows that slanting his candidate surveys would be bad for his reputation and therfore bad for business. Yes, cooking the books on Iraq would be bad as well, but election polls may be verified against actual exit results in a way that opinion polls cannot.

The evidence cited by Ruffini about recent polls doesn’t make the case that Zogby is a "fraud" in his handling the of candidate polls. While it is somewhat disconcerting that Zogby volunteered his services against the Tom "The Hammer" DeLay, he still found DeLay up by 20 points. As for the Torricelli polls, Ruffini suggests that Zogby showed Torricelli leading when every other poll showed the Torch with even odds or worse. Here, it’s not clear that Ruffini is shooting straight. First, he doesn’t say what date he is referring to on the Zogby polls that showed Torricelli leading. The article he cites regarding Torricelli’s terrorism ties was on September 17, before the wheels had fully come off the Torricelli electoral bus. It must be remembered that as late as September 27, the Washington Post was reporting the race as a dead heat, while on September 28th, the Washington Times cited a Zogby poll showing Forrester ahead by four points. The court didn’t announce the release of the campaign documents which spelled the polling crash for the Torricelli campaign until September 27, so given the Post’s numbers and court’s timing, Zogby’s poll seems to have been on the mark, and maybe ahead of the curve. Yes, there has been a large swing in Minnesota in favor of Paul Wellstone (who voted against the congressional authorization on Iraq), but this is the state that elected Jesse Ventura--nothing surprises me there. And if we are going to talk about big swings, the theory doesn’t take into accout the big swing in favor of Talent in Missouri. Last time I checked, Talent wasn’t singing Kum-baya and wearing love beads about Iraq.

I’ve droned on too long, but the point is that yes, everyone knows that Zogby’s got strong opinions about the middle east, and so polls on that topic should be viewed with skepticism. But I think that Zogby has too much to lose to cook the books on numbers at home, and Ruffini didn’t make the case.

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