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.
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