Saturday, September 30, 2006

SurveyUSA responds to an inquiry

I emailed SurveyUSA today to ask about how various polls make it to their website's posted lists. Jay Leve, a SUSA editor sent me the following response:

SurveyUSA operates under the following rules of engagement, which we believe are industry standard:

All SurveyUSA “public opinion polls” are public, and as such, SurveyUSA publishes the results and makes as much disclosure as possible about the methods used to conduct the research. Once a SurveyUSA “public opinion poll” enters the public domain, SurveyUSA has an obligation to answer any questions put to it, that would help the media, or a citizen (such as yourself) make sense of the data.

By contrast, SurveyUSA conducts “private market research” for businesses, media and some political organizations. Results of these market research studies are confidential to the entity which commissions them – provided that the entity does not in any way make public reference to the results. Once the entity releases some or all of the results of a SurveyUSA “private market research” study publicly, by issuing a press release, or in some other way trumpeting the results, then the results of that study enter the public domain, and SurveyUSA treats the research as though it were “public,” and SurveyUSA is obligated to answer questions put to it, as to how the research was conducted and what questions were asked of respondents.

So, basically, until WDBJ talks about any Goode/Weed surveys done since July 26, we won't be able to find any information on SUSA. Personally I don't think we'll hear the results any time soon. I don't think the numbers are as "sensational" for Virgil this time around.

The Internet is great, isn't it? You can go online, find information (or the lack thereof) and then contact someone to ask a question about it. If you're really lucky, they actually respond. Thanks, Jay, for getting back to me in about two hours. Now, if only the other email recipient would answer my question.

It's been a while...

Things have been hectic lately, but I'm taking a break from homework to write a couple of posts.

Between my job (teaching school) starting on August 3 and graduate school beginning at the end of August (yes, I was accepted for a doctoral program at ODU), I have been really busy. I'm glad the garden was winding down when school started. We'll be cleaning a lot of it off this afternoon as well.

My job is even more stressful than before, as the administration changed our 4x4 block schedule so that teachers now teach 4 (four) 90 minute blocks each day with about 55 minutes at the end of the day for every teacher in the high school to have planning at the same time. Two days a week I have to leave when planning starts to go to my graduate classes and several of the other days always seem to have a meeting I'm required to attend. (At the end of the day, most of us are almost too tired to plan anyway. With only 30 minutes for lunch, bathroom breaks when you can get them, and a couple of teachers having three or four different preparations each day, this new plan is a killer!)

Graduate school is .... well, um, graduate school. Lots of projects, plenty to read, and homework to turn in. Yep, that's graduate school. This semester I'm taking Instructional Technology and Statistics. Nothing like a boring chapter on Educational Theories to put you to sleep at night, unless it's one on statistics, that is. I'm most enjoying the technology projects. We are beginning Flash projects using SwishMax in the next couple of weeks.

Learning new things is the best part about going back to school. In many ways, I wish I could take the time off from work to complete my doctorate instead. But, bills call...

Jim Kent, where are the results you promised?

The following email was sent to Jim Kent, news director for WDBJ7 in Roanoke this afternoon:

I wrote you in July about the fact that I found your SurveyUSA poll to be skewed in its analysis. In case you lost/deleted the email from July 28, 2006, I’ve copied it for you below:

To Whom It May Concern:

Not only are links in this WDBJ7 article not working (both the ones for email and survey details), but your report fails to identify 45% of the likely voters as being Republicans and 44% of the respondents as saying they are Conservative. Checking the crosstabs for the survey shows the actual data involved. Had the numbers been fairly distributed rather than skewed, I would consider the SUSA survey and your analysis valid. As it stands, I find both to be highly suspect and your coverage misleading. If we can’t trust our local media to provide accurate and detailed information, we might as well be listening and looking elsewhere. I hope in the future you will research more completely by looking at the make-up of a survey, rather than skimming the analysis for sensationalism.

Lisa Blanton
Cumberland VA

Your response was:

Ms. Blanton,

Thank you for your email. I looked this morning and found no problems with any of the links on our survey story. We haven't heard from anyone else who had trouble. The "Survey Details" is how you get to the cross-tabs, which you apparently saw, so I'm not sure what is not working for you.

The SurveyUSA poll is a random survey. The numbers are not skewed. A link to a complete explanation of the pollster's methodology can be found on the same page where you saw the cross-tabs.

Incidentally, we'll be doing these polls monthly during the campaign.

Thank you again for taking the time to write--and I'm sorry you had trouble with some of the links.


Jim Kent
News Director

I am now writing to ask: Where are the monthly polls you told me would be done during the campaign?

I have checked the SurveyUSA site very carefully. In their 2006 Election Polls list, I find that you have done surveys for the Senatorial races on 9/29/06, 9/27/06, 9/13/06, and on 8/21/06. You have even done polls on the Virginia marriage amendment on 9/29/06, 9/13/06, and 8/21/06. But on no date since the July 26, 2006, original poll that I questioned have you provided any results of a survey regarding the Goode/Weed contest.

I can only assume that the results were not to your liking, the sensationalism I referred to in my original email was lacking, or that, as I intimated in my original email, you can’t be trusted to provide accurate and detailed information. Perhaps you can direct me to the results—but then, I doubt it.


Lisa Blanton
Cumberland VA

P.S. Incidentally, I will be posting a copy of this email on my blog Honesty Counts and it will be picked up by the Virginia Blog Aggregator about 5 P.M. today.

I did respond back to his original email with the following:

Thanks for your reply.

Since your links did not work using my Mozilla Firefox browser, I actually had to go out to the original source—SUSA—to look at the crosstabs. In addition, I had to use your “Contact” link on the sidebar in order to send my email.

Most of the reports I have seen discussing this article are only looking at your coverage and passing on your information. They aren’t interested in the crosstabs or the methodology behind the survey. They are simply saying that Weed is being beaten by over 20 points. I still consider failure to mention that almost half of the respondents were Republican (even in a random survey) a bias. Unless the analysis in your article mentions this fact, people assume (no matter how wrong it is) that those participating were evenly distributed among the various parties being represented.

Thanks for the update about monthly polls. I’ll be interested in seeing if the numbers change with Virgil’s recent statement about the Department of the Defense no longer needing MZM/Athena’s services in Martinsville. In addition, if next month’s survey is primarily Democrats, I hope that you will maintain your silence about the makeup of the respondents and let the chips fall where they may. Anything other than that could definitely be considered biased reporting.

This all has me wondering: Does the sound of silence about any poll being taken indicate a definite bias in their coverage of this 5th Congressional District race? I certainly think so. Does their silence mean that the numbers aren't good for Virgil? Only WDBJ can tell us that answer and I don't think we'll be hearing from them any time soon.