Why a Polling Firm Hid Numbers That Showed Democrats Losing the Colorado Recall

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 11 2013 8:25 PM

Why a Polling Firm Hid Numbers That Showed Democrats Losing the Colorado Recall

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Nate Silver, pictured here at the 16th Annual Webby Awards on May 21, 2012, in New York City, isn't very happy with Public Policy Polling.

Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images

This morning, out of nowhere, Public Policy Polling revealed to the world that it had polled the Colorado recalls, been on the money, but failed to release it. "In a district that Barack Obama won by almost 20 points," wrote PPP's Tom Jensen, "I figured there was no way that could be right and made a rare decision not to release the poll."

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Here's some reflection on the results in CO last night based on polling we did in one of the districts last weekend: http://t.co/yzdZPe9kqw

— PublicPolicyPolling (@ppppolls) September 11, 2013

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The questions started to roll in.

@LoganDobson I was worried that with 1/3rd of Dems supporting the recall on the poll, they perhaps were confused by question wording...

— PublicPolicyPolling (@ppppolls) September 11, 2013

And Jensen started to explain that the held poll was no big deal.

Love #tcot feeling like a private business has some sort of obligation to release all its work to the public

— PublicPolicyPolling (@ppppolls) September 11, 2013

We are a private polling company. 90% of the polling we do is never released to the public, just like other private polling companies...

— PublicPolicyPolling (@ppppolls) September 11, 2013

The number of polls we've done over the years we didn't release where a Democrat was winning far exceeds ones where a Republican was...

— PublicPolicyPolling (@ppppolls) September 11, 2013

The rest of the political world cottoned on to this after Nate Silver started expressing outrage at the decision. In now-deleted tweets, Jensen called out Silver for being "bitter" at the polling firm. In the tweets that survive, Jensen only pleads for sanity.

@fivethirtyeight @ThePlumLineGS Not releasing a poll we never announced we were conducting is not 'putting our finger on the scale'

— PublicPolicyPolling (@ppppolls) September 11, 2013

Let's give a few whacks to PPP but agree that this doesn't ruin its credibility. "We didn't think the candidate could possibly be losing this badly" is an insane reason to hold a poll—that's a poll people want to read, especially on a race that had no public data at all! But if PPP was trying to cover up the decision, it could have by never admitting that the poll existed. Who was asking? There was no heat; the mistake was answered by transparency.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.