Friday, August 6, 2010

Abdul Hakim-Shabazz and "Confidential Facts" Part II

Pundit Abdul Hakim-Shabazz has a knack for taking easily verifiable factual data and posting it without a source, and then using the "confidential facts" from an alleged political poll to back up his opinions.

As I've previously reported (as well as others questioning various postings that Shabazz has written here, here, and here), he has cited polls saying Mayor Greg Ballard was polling high among African-Americans, and that Ballard's poll numbers are similar to Governor Mitch Daniels. He has reported these factual statistics without citing the poll, or disclosing any of the methodology surrounding the poll.

Today he posted that Daniels' approval rating is 70%, again without citing the poll. As I discussed in my previous post, polling methodology is important. It lets you see how the poll was conducted, what the sample was, how demographics break down, and so much more. Without this information, statistics cited from polls are little more than random numbers that hold no weight in discussion.

Furthermore, the National Council on Public Polls requires all members of it's organization to at least disclose the following information:

Level 1 Disclosure: All reports of survey findings issued for public release by a member organization will include the following information:

  • Sponsorship of the survey
  • Fieldwork provider (if applicable)
  • Dates of interviewing
  • Sampling method employed (for example, random-digit dialed telephone sample, list-based telephone sample, area probability sample, probability mail sample, other probability sample, opt-in internet panel, non-probability convenience sample, use of any oversampling)
  • Population that was sampled (for example, general population; registered voters; likely voters; or any specific population group defined by gender, race, age, occupation or any other characteristic)
  • Size of the sample that serves as the primary basis of the survey report
  • Size and description of the subsample, if the survey report relies primarily on less than the total sample
  • Margin of sampling error (if a probability sample)
  • Survey mode (for example, telephone/interviewer, telephone/automated, mail, internet, fax, e-mail)
  • Complete wording and ordering of questions mentioned in or upon which the release is based
  • Percentage results of all questions reported

Member organizations reporting results will endeavor to have print and broadcast media include the above items in their news stories.

Member organizations conducting privately commissioned surveys should make clear to their clients that the client has the right to maintain the confidentiality of survey findings. However, in the event the results of a privately commissioned poll are made public by the survey organization the above items should be disclosed.

In the event the results of a privately commissioned poll are made public by the client, the survey organization (a) shall make the information outlined above available to the public upon request and (b) shall have the responsibility to release the information above and other pertinent information necessary to put the client's release into the proper context if such a release has misrepresented the survey's findings.

Shabazz is a talented writer, and sometimes I might even agree with him. But he has a poor history on reporting, honestly and openly, on polling statistics and other easily verifiable facts. It's just lazy journalism at best. As I said before, these polls he cites might as well be made up.

This should not be taken as going against Daniels. Some of my family have connections to Daniels, and I've met the man and voted for him twice, and would gladly vote for him again. I wouldn't be surprised if his poll numbers were between 65-70%. This is, after all, a solid red state. But even a fact as obvious as "red state governor has high approval ratings" should still be sourced. There is just no reason not to have a source.


  1. Matt,

    I get lots of data that I trust, but don't disclose the source, because much of it is internal. I told you a while back Ballard was polling pretty high, and the smoke free indy poll of likely voters backed me up by showing 60+ % of voters thinking the city was on the right track.

    My reputation speaks for itself and I really don't care what other people have to say, but if it makes you happy, the source was a bellwether poll.

    It had Mitch at 65-28. By the way, it also showed Daniels' support among blacks was 70% and it had likely voter preference for the Indiana statehouse at 54-26 Republican.

    That work for you? There's more where that came from if you want it.

  2. You had the information to post, and chose not to post it. For what reason I don't know. But I know at least a few of your readers would've preferred "According to an internal poll" rather than just putting the stat in the post unsourced and without context.

    I've spent a good amount of time in journalism and know that confidential sources have their place. Your posts on Lincoln Plowman probably couldn't have been written without them.

    But I still don't see the reason to keep polls, even internal, under lock and key. If the end results are made available, then the methodology should be as well. And if those holding that information don't feel like sharing it, they should keep it all to themselves. I know you don't necessarily get to choose what information you can and can't openly talk about, but those are my thoughts.

  3. I've been in journalism/media for 20 years. I think I have a pretty good handle on this stuff. Also don't forget, I deal in gossip and rumor and clearly label it as such. I am not responsible for what the reader takes away from it.

  4. In other words, I pull the pin and throw in the grenade, but I'm not responsible for the damage.


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