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NE: Questions swirl around Pharos pollster

By   /   October 31, 2012  /   News  /   13 Comments

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

On Monday, Nebraska Watchdog received a one-sentence news release and attached poll on the U.S. Senate race, with a name and number to call with questions.

Nothing unusual there. Except that if you called the number, you got a San Diego law firm. The woman who answered the phone was the woman whose name was on the news release. She said it was a law firm where lawyer Michael Gardiner is also a partner in Pharos Research Group.

That’s just one of the unusual things about Pharos — a polling company that’s existed for less than a month and already has attracted the attention, and skepticism, and of the liberal Daily Kos and baseball statistician-turned-presidential-prediction-star Nate Silver of the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight column.

They’re skeptical because the company claims to have conducted at least 15 polls nationwide and in Florida, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio and North Dakota so far this month. All for no pay and all of which tend to lean Democratic.

In Nebraska, for example, Pharos claims to have conducted five polls this month alone, all of them showing the race increasingly tight. While Republican Deb Fischer’s U.S. Senate campaign has disputed this, Pharos’ results were close to that of the Omaha World-Herald’s recent poll calling it a 3-point race.

The Daily Kos saw red flags, such as Pharos reporting results to the hundredths of a percent, which it called “false accuracy” that is “a hallmark of questionable pollsters.”

Then on Tuesday, Silver expressed doubt about Pharos’ legitimacy on Twitter after Pharos was slow to get back to them about which call centers they use. Silver questioned where the company is getting money to pay for what it says are all live-call polls.

The director of polling for Pharos, Steve Leuchtman, of Enderlin, N.D., was a bit exasperated Tuesday after he said he spent much of the afternoon corresponding with Silver’s people, trying to verify Pharos’ legitimacy. He said it was “very unpleasant” and it seemed like Silver “wants my scalp on a mantle.”

“Sometimes there are people that you just can’t please no matter what you do,” Leuchtman told Nebraska Watchdog.

He said Silver questioned how he conducted all those polls for less than a million dollars, but said he uses low-cost call centers and a network of friends and former coworkers he pays $1 per survey.

“I’ve worked at cheap call centers and I’ve worked at expensive call centers,” he said. “We’re able to do this for a lot less.”

He admits the quality of his polls isn’t as good as Gallup, where he said he worked in the 1990s. He said Pharos launched on Oct. 1.

“I’m doing it on the cheap,” he said, “because that’s what we can afford to do right now.”

And while he told the Daily Kos last week the reason nobody had heard of the company before was that their previous polls didn’t get any attention — “not one freaking play” — although Nebraska Watchdog, for one, never received notice of previous poll results.

“I could use a little bit less attention,” Leuchtman said. “Nate Silver would like to expose me as not being real. I don’t begrudge the guy.”

Leuchtman said the reason he’s doing all these political polls for free is to show the results to potential commercial clients. And while he said he hopes to land some future political jobs, all the negative publicity made him doubtful that would happen.

“I understand the skepticism,” he said. “I think people should be skeptical of all polls all the time.”

Other oddities: You’d think a pollster would keep his political opinions to himself, but Leuchtman mentioned during an interview last week that he hopes Fischer’s U.S. Senate race opponent, the Democrat Bob Kerrey, wins in Nebraska, but doubts it’s feasible.

Leuchtman also called a North Dakota blogger who was critical of his polls a “right-wing troll.” And on Twitter, he said Chick-Fil-A pushes “fanatic views on religion,” retweeted tweets by Heidi Heitkamp, the Democrat in the North Dakota Senate race he has repeatedly polled and retweeted derogatory tweets about Mitt Romney. He’s also polled the presidential race.

A quick Google search shows Leuchtman has worked in marketing and for a payroll preparation service.

So is he a real pollster? He said Election Day will show his methods work.

“I think the results will speak for themselves,” he said.

Contact Deena Winter at [email protected].

Editor’s note: to subscribe to News Updates from Nebraska Watchdog at no cost, click here.


Deena formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.

  • Anon. Now

    But what does he think about the Kerrey fence ad? How could that important element have been left out of this story? Or even this story’s headline? And is he as well-informed on the facts from back then as Vickie Powell, or even more so (as if that’s even possible).

  • Big Max

    Why isn’t the Omaha World-Herald reporting this?

  • Now I want a story on the background of the Omaha World Herald’s polling company, who has been staggeringly wrong with its predictions over the years, always to the benefit of the Democrat candidate.

  • Angus O’Brian-Mccannon

    Why do we care so much about the Polls? We are Americans now, not Polish! Do we care so much about any other nationalities and who they vote for? And how many Polls live in USA now?

  • laughin

    The unregulated free market, it is said, will demonstrate polls that prove high degree of accuracy will attract more future clients and earn greater credibility and vice versa. Polls and campaign ads are the cheapest way for corporate media bottom feeders to profit. Pundits & pontificators earn more $$’s bloviating about ads & polls. Polling firms are good ‘job creators’.
    Polls are just one stupid part of the ongoing, continuous election campaign every two and four years as politicians dial for dollars round the clock. Tax code grows along with big campaign contributions. Now, big campaign contributions are secretive and billionaires can and do tip an election– ain’t freedom great? Since corporations are people, don’t let a corporation step on your foot while you are in your booth completing your ballot (wonder what percent of corporations (oops/persons) fill out a ballot election day?)
    The dumbing down of America has accelerated since the 1980s so dumb polls seem par for the USA’s worthless campaign discourse for the 50%.
    Uninformed voters = too many elected representatives who are equally dimwitted, uninformed, with unworldly/narrow minded views who are indebted only to lobbyists representing their biggest campaign contributors.
    50-60% of eligible voters never vote. Tuesday election day was established back in the horse & carriage days. Many voters have to wait in long lines on a workday, the right to vote now encumbered with ID’s of all types, voting machines can and do break down. In addition, eligible voters are wrongly removed from registration rolls and some precincts don’t have enough voting machines. State secretaries or election commissioners mail incorrect facts to voters –you’d think all this would happen only in an ‘undeveloped’ nation. Robo-calls, campaign ads filled with lies, campaign junk in the mail, push-pull phone surveys, endless yard signs, shadowy anonymous groups sending defamatory twitters and emails and 24-7 TV ads seen mostly by senior citizens.
    Yet, surveys show most voters can’t: name more than one Supreme Court Justice, can’t explain how a bill moves through Congress, can’t identify
    Afghanistan on a map & fail when asked to identify the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution from among writings that include Karl Marx and Adolph Hitler.
    Advanced nations work to increase voter turn-out. Only in the USA do those in power do everything possible to reduce voter turn-out while dumbing down the electorate. Billions will be spent for pols to have a chance to suck on the government teats (salary & benefits of $300,000 plus lifetime perks). Polls aren’t even the worst aspect of a perverse election system where billionaires secretly finance millionaires to lie about other millionaires so they can become mega-millionaires working on behalf of the billionaires who paid for their election win! Ya’ really think one poll trying to ‘forecast the future’ is THE problem? Visit your local fortune teller.

  • Roger Yant

    Polls will be proven wrong again this year. I can’t believe that people are paying to have polls taken, and then those that worship them. They are ways for crooks to make money and scam those that pay for them. You can make a poll come out any way you want it to. Fools listen to polls.

  • Jenny

    I am so sick of this………I mean all any of you do is run good people through the mud…….I made Pharos Research groups site for free……..I stood by and watched them struggle and work day and night on this…….My husband Steve and myself have three children and I have health issues……….Your killing me and my family with this garbage…..Do you ever think of the people you run through the mud because the polls say something you don’t like or they are by people not in your inner circle……..they are real people, with real families…….I know for a fact that my husband never said the think about Bob Kerrey. I know what he said and it doesn’t even resemble what you are posting here. Since we have been married he has done nothing but help people that is who he is…..He got into this to help people with their campaigns……..He felt that all those running should have access to polling….He likes numbers and always has…….He did this because he could enjoy working with numbers and politics……..He knows lots of people in calling centers because he use to work for Gallop and has worked with some of these call centers and has a fairly decent relationship with them….He has answered emails till the wee hours of the night in a polite and respectful manner and in the end what did it get him……..He is one of the most honest and even people I have ever known…….I have been here for 14 years…….To see the things said about him is horrid. He is a good family man with three children, a daughter who is 6, a son who is three and a baby boy born premature last year. What I read here is nothing but mud slinging and cynical behavior. I am ashamed of the way people treat each other…..when the election is done, the damage you have done to him will still be there…….He is so neutral about his work and yet you say he brings his personal opinion in on it……Sorry I can find a numerous people who will tell you that his personal opinions and work do not mix………I use to really think highly of people……..My eyes are open…..You try to help people by given them a quality product at a good price and instead your up to something…..He would give a person the shirt off his back…….If you knew him, but you don’t……..On top of all this he hasn’t taken a cent from any of this……he has gotten no gain so why would he do any of these things you say?

  • Question: You would think the “big boys” would be polling NE is there was something to this (Gallup, Rasmussen). By ignoring NE, are they telling us something?

  • You could clear this up by conducting a NE Senate poll based upon current NE political party registrations (R/D/I). Some of the controversy comes from firms who are using 2008 models believing that the Dems will get the same turnout levels as in the last Presidential election (which might not be the case considering the climate post 2010 midterms).

    Also, commenting that your poll is an “outlier” gives a “Spockian eyebrow” aspect of the story.

  • Jenny

    Your dating yourself using “Spockian eyebrow” that made me laugh……sorry it is hard to take a comment seriously if you use “Spockian eyebrow” I mean really a Trek fan who dabbled in statistics and politics, hummm……Funny thing statistics…….I had to take my share to get my degree and find it boring and dry…….The fact is there are outliers in statistics not everything fits all neat in the trend line…….Would you then say that a bell curve is incorrect because the two ends are outside the main trend…..perhaps we should just throw those ends out as well…..there is always going to be a deviation no matter what you do……wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if everything just fell neatly in the center?

  • I, for one, will be happy when “polling season” is over. In my 41 years (I “dated” myself for you – saved you the trouble of insulting me after you whined about all the commenters here of “running good people through the mud”) I’ve never been so SICK AND TIRED of hearing about polls. MOST of them mean NOTHING. No matter how many years of school you took, it doesn’t change the results that I could get from picking up my phone and calling random homes in Nebraska. Big whoop – even the weatherman is right SOMETIMES. Polls rarely get it right.

    Too bad all your schooling didn’t teach you to respect your “elders”. Meh.

  • Jenny

    I am not as young as you may think unless 39 is a young pup. I do respect my elders, all I had was older people when I grew up…I was part of the care taking of my great grandfather, my great grandmother, my grandfather, my grandmother, my great uncle and my mother. All of which have passed. I spend more time with elderly people than I do with younger people……you get treated with the respect you give someone and it seems to be something the world forgets…….it sad in my eyes because sooner or latter the split is going to drive us to a civil war. By the way my grandfather was a disabled vet and I spent hours listening him tell me how it use to be…..it was the happiest time of my life

  • Please respond to the original comment: You could clear this up by conducting a NE Senate poll based upon current NE political party registrations (R/D/I). “Spockian eyebrow” isn’t a joke either. Let me use an old advertising term used in the 60’s….”Sir, they aren’t eating the dog food.”