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Shoddy Journalism

They say there are three types of lies: Lies, damn lies, and statistics.  They are right:

According to the Fargo Forum, in a “hypothetical matchup,” North Dakota Governor John Hoeven (R) currently leads U.S. Senator Kent Conrad (D) in the polls.  The only problem is the pollsters (PMR Inc. of Davenport, Iowa) didn’t bother to poll only likely voters (the Forum doesn’t divulge this fact until the 17th paragraph – and then it’s a quote from a Conrad staffer). 

In short, the poll is a joke.  No respectable polling firm would poll unlikely voters – and no respectable newspaper would publish a poll that is patently misleading.  Having spent a year in Fargo, this shoddy journalism doesn’t surprise me. 

Last year, the Forum published an expose of the North Dakota Congressional race.  (The same reporter wrote that story, too)  Their analysis was based on the opinions of two North Dakota college professors, who both criticized the Republican (in the interest of full-disclosure, I was the campaign manager).  The trouble is, the reporter didn’t do his homework.  He picked bad sources.  One of the professors just moved to the state.  The other professor was a major donor to the Democrat candidate. 

Too often, newspapers report misleading polls and biased sources.  Sadly, these news stories may actually influence public opinion because the average reader doesn’t question how information was obtained.  (In fact, the Forum says, “The poll results are likely to intensify GOP efforts to persuade Hoeven to take on Conrad…”). 

Journalists owe it to the public to do a better job in reporting on only “scientific” polls.  The Forum should retract this story.

Written By

Mr. Lewis has managed political campaigns and served as director of grassroots for the Leadership Institute, as well as political director for GOPAC. In 2002, Campaigns & Elections magazine selected him as a "Rising Star of Politics." He is the author of "Teaching Elephants to Talk." His blog can be read at MattLewis.org.

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