<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Greenberg Accuses Penn of Cooking Polls (and Why the Claim Is Credible)

Charges that Pollster Mark Penn “Rigged” Data in the 2005 British Election are Supported by Reports that He Did the Same in Venezuela in 2004

By Al Giordano
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

February 23, 2009

Mark Blumenthal at Pollster.com has a most interesting post today:

Of the many stories in Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg’s new book, Dispatches from the War Room, the most newsworthy may be his slashing condemnation of Mark Penn, the pollster that displaced him within the inner circles of both President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Greenberg, reacting to what he saw of Penn’s polling when both worked on Blair’s 2005 re-election, describes Penn’s methods as “errant,” his tests of messages as “biased” and “rigged” and his documentation lacking “transparency” and “the information normally delivered by a professional research organization.”

Penn, in response to my query, defends his surveys for the Labor Party as “extremely accurate,” says Greenberg was excluded from information because he was “not in the loop,” and describes Greenberg’s attacks as inaccurate and “unsubstantiated.”

Mark Penn
Read the whole thing, but here’s why I tend to believe Greenberg’s claim: the 2005 British elections came on the heels of Penn’s unethical rigging of exit polling data in August of 2004 in Venezuela.

In an August 19 story that year, Penn & Schoen’s Inaccurate and Dishonest ‘Exit Poll’ on Chávez Vote, I reported from Venezuela:

The United States-based, British-owned, political consulting firm bearing the names of pollsters Mark Penn, Doug Schoen, and Michael Berland, committed a crime under Venezuelan election law on Sunday: It violated the law against releasing “exit poll” data before polls had closed.

In the firm’s own press release, Penn, Schoen & Berland admitted that they knew they were releasing the supposed “exit poll” information while voting was still underway:

“New York, August 15, 2004, 7:30pm EST – With Venezuela’s voting set to end at 8:00pm EST according to election officials, final exit poll results from Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, an independent New York-based polling firm, show a major victory for the ‘Yes’ movement, defeating Chavez in the Venezuelan presidential recall referendum.”

The careless and malicious approach that Penn, Schoen & Berland displayed with the Venezuela referendum on the continued tenure of President Hugo Chávez can be seen by the hour when the firm put out its press release: Voting in Venezuela had already been extended another two-and-a-half hours, until 10 p.m. (it would later be extended past midnight) so that all the millions of Venezuelan citizens still waiting on line to vote would be able to cast their ballots.

… it gets even worse: Penn, Schoen & Berland’s “exit poll” now turns out to have been wrong… not just a little bit wrong… but a lot wrong. And beyond being very, very, inaccurate, the firm deceived the public in how it represented this sloppily conducted survey that ignored the basic methodology that all serious pollsters undertake: the “exit poll” resulted to be inaccurate by a total of 36 percentage points! Penn, Schoen & Berland got the “Yes” vote – the anti-Chavez vote – wrong by 18 percentage points, and the pro-Chavez “No” vote wrong by another 18 percentage points… and the firm must now be forced to face the music of its own deception: “a 36-point margin of error” simply does not credibly exist in the field of professional polling.

The “outlier” poll – at odds with all other polling data by all other companies prior to the 2004 Venezuelan referendum (and, as stated, with the actual results) became the sole basis for seething accusations of electoral fraud from the same opposition forces that had supported the failed 2002 coup d’etat in Venezuela.

That story also revisited a previous incident, during the 2000 Mexican presidential elections, when this publication caught Penn, Schoen & Berlandi violating the ethics code of the American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR).

Back then, Penn, Schoen & Berlandi claimed to be impartial and ethical. The passing of the years has lifted that cloak, with Penn’s fall from grace with Secretary Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign (due to undisclosed conflicts of interest involving payments from the regime of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe). But the trajectory of his former partner, Doug Schoen, in the years since provides perhaps an even more illuminating prism through which to look back upon their bizarre behavior in 2004 in Venezuela.

Douglas Schoen
After Venezuelan President Chávez won that recall referendum, Schoen – based on his firm’s claims that conflicted with all other data and with the international electoral observations of former president Jimmy Carter and other organizations – claimed, “I think it was a massive fraud.” Worse, the alleged data upon which Schoen based his claims was the firm’s “exit poll” carried out by members of the Venezuelan opposition organization that led the referendum campaign against Chávez, a group named Súmate.

Schoen has descended in the years since from his PR work to become primarily known for shrill wing-nuttery. He teamed up with Venezuelan opposition columnist Michael Rowan to author the alarmist tome, The Threat Closer to Home: Hugo Chávez and the War Against America (2009, Free Press). The book’s current Amazon sales rank of 54,832 is unimpressive and so were the reviews.

Reviewing the Schoen-Rowan hardcover for The Washington Post, former US News & World Report reporter in Latin America, Linda Robinson wrote, “Schoen and Rowan undermine their argument with hyperbole and unsupported allegations… they do not add anything to the factual record, nor do they attempt a coherent explanation.”

United States political consultants regularly play more fast and loose when working in foreign lands than they could possibly get away with at home. (Greenberg himself has engaged in controversial behavior when consulting in Bolivian and Mexican elections in the early years of this century, although we haven’t discovered anything as extreme as the charge against Penn of cooking false polling data to manipulate public opinion.) There just isn’t (or hasn’t been until recently) as much public scrutiny of their activities abroad as there is at home.

But if Stan Greenberg is now accusing Mark Penn of rigging polling data in Great Britain in 2005, the facts that strongly suggest that he and Schoen did exactly that in Venezuela in 2005 – along with the 2008 revelations of Penn’s Colombian moonlighting behind the back of the Clinton campaign that he was running at the same time – certainly earn Greenberg the benefit of the doubt for this accusation. For both Penn and Schoen and their serial unethical activity as political consultants, the jig is almost up.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America