Partisans Commission Nonpartisan Polls

by Nathan L. Gonzales August 13, 2008 · 8:46 PM EDT

The roles of partisan, strategist, journalist and advocate are fuzzier than ever before. Democratic activist and blogger Markos Moulitsas has commissioned a series of polls in U.S. Senate races across the country this cycle, using the nonpartisan polling firm Research 2000.

“I know the polling I run will be often dismissed by outsiders as partisan polling anyway,” Moulitsas said, “so I wanted a nonpartisan pollster to combat that perception.”

Partisan interest groups do polls all the time, but Moulitsas is breaking the mold by making all of the results public, including the cross tabs, on his popular blog, “I publish everything I get from R2K, so it’s all public for whoever wants to use it,” Moulitsas explained. “I publish every poll I take, even if they suck for Democrats — and a bunch have.”

By polling primarily in second- and third-tier races, Moulitsas runs the risk of paying for some lackluster results. For example, Research 2000 polls had Democratic candidates trailing by wide margins in Oklahoma (by 22 points), Maine (by 23 points) and Nebraska (31 points and 27 points in two separate surveys).

Part of Moulitsas’ rationale is to illuminate potentially competitive contests in otherwise ignored states. But it’s not a cheap endeavor.

He’s commissioned at least 20 polls to date, at an estimated cost, according to one Democratic pollster, of between $6,000 and $8,000 each, for a total cost of between $120,000 and $160,000 so far this cycle. Moulitsas declined to discuss the specific cost or terms of his arrangement with Research 2000, but all the surveys are paid for by Kos Media LLC, which derives its revenue from advertising and site subscriptions.

The polls are the latest example of growing tension between Democratic activists who believe Democratic strategists in Washington aren’t paying enough attention to longer-shot races.

“I run a site for political junkies addicted to polls. And polling organizations weren’t polling some of the races I was interested in,” Moulitsas said, while pointing to his December 2007 Alaska survey as an example. That was one of the first public polls to show an extremely competitive race, with Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) leading Sen. Ted Stevens (R) by 6 points.

Because all of the results are public at, strategists, candidates and committees on both sides of the aisle can benefit from the numbers, particularly in races with a dearth of information, like Idaho, Kansas and Nebraska. Operatives at both the Republican and Democratic Senate campaign committees digest the Daily Kos/Research 2000 numbers with other public polls, but ultimately make spending and strategic decisions based on polls they pay for themselves.

Even though Research 2000 is an established, nonpartisan firm that does work for more traditional media outlets as well, the Kos numbers may still be viewed more skeptically because of the relationship with a liberal, Democratic Web site.

“I’m not going to change how we do questions or how we do polls [depending on who pays for them],” Research 2000 President Del Ali explained, while also being up-front about the business side. “I’m out to make money.”

“I’m turned off with the mainstream media in general,” Ali said. “These bastards [in the media] care more about celebrity. [Moulitsas] is covering what should be covered.”