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June 29, 2006

It's What We Call Spin?

Thanks to alert reader LS who tipped me off to an old story that I had missed, but that is still worthy of notice on MP.   Nearly two months ago, Dick Leggitt, the campaign manager for Colorado Republican Senate candidate Marc Holtzman admitted under oath that he had made up poll numbers and given them to a Denver Post reporter:

Holtzman's campaign manager, Dick Leggitt, admitted Friday [4/28] that he lied to a Denver Post reporter in an e-mail by fabricating poll numbers that purportedly showed Holtzman's name recognition going from "10 percent to 70 percent and his favorables among GOP primary voters are now just slightly less than (U.S. Rep. Bob) Beauprez's (39 to 42)."

Leggitt also admitted he made up polling results indicating that support for ballot measures Referendums C and D was lagging.

"We didn't have any polling results," Leggitt said during the administrative court hearing. "It's what we in the election business call spin."

Leggitt resigned from the Holtzman campaign a week later, but not before admitting to a Denver Post Columnist that making up poll numbers "probably wasn't the smartest thing I ever did."

No argument there.   

From my twenty years of experience as a partisan campaign pollster, I can tell you that while it happens rarely, Leggitt is not the first campaign spinmeister to creatively invent poll results.   Pollsters hate this, as the imaginary numbers inevitably damage our credibility.  A pollster that tolerates fabricated numbers will not be in business for long.  That is why my company and many others include language in our contracts obliging clients to avoid misrepresentation of our findings and reserving the legal right to publicly correct any such misrepresentation, should it ever occur.

This episode also serves as a cautionary tale to those who follow politics and -- most of all -- to those who cover it.  Here is a tip for reporters:  If a campaign operative spins you about favorable internal poll numbers, try to get a confirmation direclty from the pollster.  If they are willing to put their name (and reputation) behind the results, you can have much greater confidence that they are genuine.  If the pollster has not put the numbers in a memo on their letterhead, or will not otherwise confirm that the numbers are real, they probably aren't.

Related Entries - Polls in the News

Posted by Mark Blumenthal on June 29, 2006 at 02:59 PM in Polls in the News | Permalink


When I wrote about the incident in my own blog, I used somewhat different terminology.

I'm in the election business too. I don't call stuff like that "spin." I call it "lying."

Posted by: Ralph | Jun 30, 2006 2:19:13 PM

A very long time ago, 1970 in fact, I was a very young staffer on a Senate campaign. We were asked to go run around a particular county doing "interviews," then funnel the results to HQ. We did, though we couldn't come close to finding the number of people we were told to talk with.

Sometime later it came out that the campaign pollster, a long time professional, had been willing to make his results a little more favorable to us that the data warranted, in the hope that fundraising would push our guy to victory. I think our little exercise was meant to provide (poor) cover in case some enterprising reporter tried to check on the polling.

That pollster ended up out of business and our guy lost.

Posted by: janinsanfran | Jun 30, 2006 5:43:06 PM

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