Thursday, September 07, 2006

Pollster admits making up data

And the victims include several well-known politicians.

The owner of DataUSA Inc., a company that conducted political polls for the campaigns of President Bush, Sen. Joe Lieberman and other candidates, pleaded guilty to fraud for making up survey and poll results.

Tracy Costin pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Costin, 46, faces a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 when she is sentenced Nov. 30.

I assume the data was fabricated to tell the candidates what they wanted to hear, which could have led to poor choices as far as campaign rhetoric, spending, scheduling and the like.

This is just one pollster, and one I've never heard of at that. I would not use this case to draw conclusions about the ethics and legality of the profession as a whole. But it does highlight the enormous amount of trust people put in pollsters -- not just to be honest, but also to conduct their polls in a professional and statistically valid manner. Usually this is fine, especially when the pollsters publish their methodology and detailed results. But it reinforces the fact that polls should be taken with large grains of salt -- one reason you'll rarely see them quoted here.

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