Article overlooks key findings and new academic research

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USF Associate Professor Corey Cook is a co-author of the survey.

By Corey Cook

I am writing in regard to Reed Nelson’s story “’Poll’ showing 73 percent approval for Mayor Lee was flawed.” As one of the two authors of the survey, I am deeply disappointed in the many insinuations in the article and the author’s cavalier abandonment of evidence or reason in order to make his politically expedient, but otherwise inane, point.

In fact, the author is so quick to dismiss the findings of the study, which is based upon accepted methodology, and which had nothing to do with mayoral approval scores, that he actually misses the entire thrust of the study – that voters in San Francisco are deeply ambivalent about the current environment, concerned about the affordability crisis, and not trusting of local government to come up with a solution.

You’d think the Bay Guardian might find that an interesting subject. Under a previous editor I have little doubt it would have. Instead, the author mind numbingly asserts that the mayor’s approval rate – a largely irrelevant number – is clearly overinflated and the survey must then be “bogus” (meaning fake or phony). While other scholars might find the popular characterization of their work as “fake” somewhat amusing. I do not.

The author relies on two main sources to claim that an on-line panel survey is “bogus”, the New York Times “style guide” and the “website publication” of Southeast Missouri State University Political Scientist Russell D. Renka, who is neither a survey researcher nor a political methodologist, and who does not seem to have published anything in this field (or even in political science based on his on-line vita), but who does seem to have a fairly robust home page that includes cute photos of his grandkids.

It’s not the kind of “source” that I would utilize to deride another academic’s work as “bogus”, and I could suggest some other (actual) publications to consider, including Harvard political scientist Stephen Ansolabehere’s peer reviewed article in Political Analysis titled “Does Survey Mode Still Matter?” from 2011 that compares national surveys fielded at the same time over the Internet (using an opt-in Internet panel), by telephone with live interviews (using a national RDD sample of landlines and cell phones), and by mail (using a national sample of residential addresses).

The authors of that study conclude that “comparing the findings from the modes to each other and the validated benchmarks, we demonstrate that a carefully executed opt-in Internet panel produces estimates that are as accurate as a telephone survey and that the two modes differ little in their estimates of other political indicators and their correlates.” But unfortunately that peer reviewed publication by a Harvard political scientist seems to contradict the simple assertion that a survey result the author doesn’t like must be phony.

Let me say that I don’t considered this issue “settled” in the scholarly community, but it is far from the case that serious on-line panel surveys ought to be derided as “bogus.” My preference would be to do a 1,200 person phone survey. If the Bay Guardian would like to commission such a survey, I would enjoy working with you on that project. But given the various cost limitations that preclude such a robust research design, this is not an altogether bad alternative.

That said, feel free to poke at the methodology and suggest that the numbers for Lee might not reflect that of the overall population because of the timing of the survey or because it was only conducted in English (though I’d disagree with you there – that likely holds down his numbers), or frankly just that surveys do often get it wrong. Even the best random sample is outside the margin of error one time out of 20 according to basic probability theory.

But the other thing I’d like to draw your attention to is that you’ve missed the entire point of the survey. Why do you focus on mayoral approval when it’s a survey about attitudes towards affordability and tech? In fact the article notes that “(i)nterestingly, the USF “poll” also found that 86 percent of respondants (sic) said that lack of affordability was a major issue in the city, while 49.6 percent of that same group considered housing developers to be most at fault for the astronomical real estate prices.” So apparently that part of the survey wasn’t bogus.

Here were our four findings:

* San Franciscans are of two minds: a clear majority of respondents say the city is going in the right direction, yet affordability is seen as a significant, and newly exacerbated problem.

* Most respondents see the tech boom as most strongly helping tech executives and workers. Though there is little sense that respondents and their families benefit from the tech boom, a clear majority say that tech is also good for other white collar workers and the city overall.

* The public strongly supports the idea that the city government ought to enact policies to preserve affordability but were skeptical of public officials’ ability to deal with these issues.

* Despite these concerns, there was little interest in making it harder for tech companies to come to San Francisco. For now, keeping the economy strong appears to be the priority, and we expect that feelings about the economy will likely stave off a substantial political “backlash” at least at the present time.

While Ed Lee has high approval scores, they are tepid – much more “good” than “excellent”. And those numbers erode on affordability, what the voters regard as the city’s most important issue. And we found that people don't articulate a high degree of trust in mayor in dealing with affordability. Yes, they trust him more than they do others (like developers, or the Board of Supervisors), but not much. This survey help me understand what happened on the 8 Washington vote. Voters like the mayor, as they do Newsom incidentally, but don’t buy their argument that the development would address housing affordability. His popularity didn’t have coattails on this issue.

It strikes me as a real missed opportunity for your journalists to trash the poll, based on really flimsy grounds, rather than address it’s important, and yes, ambivalent findings.

Sincerely,

 

Corey Cook, Ph.D.

Comments

It's understandable that you're a bit miffed that your reputation is being sullied by this poll. But the fault for that is all yours, for allowing yourself to be used as a hired gun to produce propaganda polling based on shoddy methodology.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 13, 2014 @ 2:52 pm

I have respect for David Latterman's intellect, however something about ethical conflicts between participants and pollsters inhibiting the production of useful data....

Posted by marcos on Jan. 13, 2014 @ 3:07 pm

Subjective.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 13, 2014 @ 6:05 pm
Posted by Guest on Jan. 13, 2014 @ 2:59 pm

bo·gus:

ˈbōgəs/

adjective

1. not genuine or true; fake.
"a bogus insurance claim"

2. information that does not support the SFBG narrative.
"several polls and an election indicate that Mayor Lee is 50% more popular than any Progressive alternative; hence the results are all bogus."

Posted by Guest on Jan. 13, 2014 @ 4:09 pm

When progressives win an election it is a great win for the people and progressive policies.

When progressives lose an election it is a bogus election. In those cases, votes were bought, or people were brainwashed, or there was voter fraud, or there were hanging chads, or . .

Posted by Guest on Jan. 13, 2014 @ 4:45 pm

Matlock: The article is about a phony poll, not an election. It's also not about your obsession and fixation with progressives. Please stay on topic.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 13, 2014 @ 6:37 pm

Correction...it's not about a phony poll, just about one that didn't produce the result that you wished. Believe it or not, there is a difference.

This poll was a bit cheaper than most. Other, more expensive polls put Lee's approval at 60-63%. So yes, this one may have overstated it a bit.

But there is nothing 'phony' about it. Sorry!!!!!

Posted by Guest on Jan. 13, 2014 @ 10:51 pm

Nope. Wrong. As Usual. Sorry!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by Guest on Jan. 13, 2014 @ 11:06 pm

But Ed Lee lied!!

Posted by Guest on Jan. 13, 2014 @ 5:31 pm
Posted by Guest on Jan. 13, 2014 @ 6:04 pm

It was only a bruise!

Posted by Guest on Jan. 13, 2014 @ 9:20 pm

She, being Fire Chief Joanna Hayes White.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 17, 2014 @ 7:59 am

It's so easy to get confused.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 17, 2014 @ 8:12 am

This guy reminds me of an internet troll. Maybe he's one of the Leebot trolls on here.

Posted by Nonpartisan Guest on Jan. 13, 2014 @ 6:14 pm
Posted by Guest on Jan. 13, 2014 @ 6:40 pm

Yes, he comes off to me as a shill/hack for Lee and tech....the corporate status quo. But I guess when one is salaried at a university as an "Associate Professor," one doesn't care what happens here with/to the average person, because he will always have his regardless.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 13, 2014 @ 6:45 pm

He writes, "Voters like the mayor, as they do Newsom incidentally."

More accurate: "SOME voters like the mayor, as SOME voters like Newsom incidentally."

And he's criticizing the BG and Reed Nelson?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 13, 2014 @ 8:07 pm

>More accurate: "SOME voters like the mayor, as SOME voters like Newsom incidentally.

True. And to quantify, the SOME is only about 72%. That was the percentage that voted for his reelection and the also the percentage of San Francisco voters who voted for him as Lt Gov.

To save you Progressives the trouble, we all KNOW that both vote totals were somehow distorted. Of course. We know that you cannot accept electoral defeat.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 13, 2014 @ 10:46 pm

I wrote this: Posted by Guest on Jan. 13, 2014 @ 8:07 pm

You wrote:

"To save you Progressives the trouble,..."

I'm not a progressive.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 13, 2014 @ 11:54 pm

Thank you for the rebuttal, Professor - I found it far more convincing than the original article!

Posted by Guest on Jan. 13, 2014 @ 10:29 pm

The Lee Campaign Headquarters is still open? You're there late again. A sign of desperation.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 13, 2014 @ 10:52 pm

Sour grapes.

Posted by Nonpartisan Guest on Jan. 13, 2014 @ 11:42 pm

So it's standard practice to refer to oneself as a scholar? Seems tacky.

I've never known anyone in academia to refer to themselves as a scholar. Sounds like someone with a big head and who thinks he's above reproach.

Posted by Nonpartisan Guest on Jan. 13, 2014 @ 11:46 pm

Thanks for your comment - I don't see the term "scholar" as some sort of exalted title. I use that term only to indicate that I participated in the survey to address an academic question about how people view this tech boom not a political one. Most of the folks I talk to see "scholars" as irrelevant to political processes, which is why I called myself that. Now if I start calling myself an "intellectual" I think you'd be on point. I'm DEFINITELY not above reproach. But there's a difference between disputing a finding and questioning someone's integrity.

Posted by Corey Cook on Jan. 15, 2014 @ 11:43 am

Okay, thank you for the response.

Posted by Nonpartisan Guest on Jan. 15, 2014 @ 9:24 pm

Your conspiracy theorists are insane. While I also question the results of the poll, to claim that Corey Cook is a tool for Lee is to quickly jump to false conclusions...

Posted by Nate Miller on Jan. 14, 2014 @ 11:16 am

Maybe Corey Cook is a total idiot? Maybe he has no idea how to do a proper poll and his PhD isn't worth the paper it's printed on? Umm... no. I think he's well aware of how to do a real poll.

Maybe you believe Latterman when he said that they had no money to do a proper poll. Umm... no again. SUSA can do a reasonable phone poll for about 1K, money the Chamber can find under the couch cushions.

Maybe you believe that two smart, well-funded "scholars" just happened to produce garbage... by accident. That's quite a coincidence theory, Nate.

No, I think it's more likely that they knew what the people funding the poll were looking for, and they engineered it in a way that the people paying the money would be pleased with the result. No conspiracy here. Happens all the time. Rasmussen makes a career out of it.

Nor is it helpful to insult your fellow progressives using right wing talking points like "conspiracy theories."

Posted by Greg on Jan. 16, 2014 @ 11:25 pm

is when people make baseless attacks against those who they don't know and then blanket their ignorance in so called progressivism. I know you to be a smart guy, and would hope that you would look a little deeper before jumping to conclusions. I don't know Corey that well, but in the few times that I have interacted with him, it is clear that he is not an ideologically driven moderate. Latterman certainly is, but he is also a smart guy. Progressives, including myself have frequently used information that he has put out into the world to help win elections. Corey is a political scientist and has a method for the way that he does things. Its certainly legitimate to question the process or procedure, or even his motivations for doing it. But I think you are making a big leap to essentially state that Corey intentionally manipulated this poll to serve a conservative agenda, when you lack the information to prove it. It just comes off as mean and kind of sour grapes because you don't provide any evidence.

Posted by Nate Miller on Jan. 17, 2014 @ 3:24 pm

Is that it? Because you haven't proposed any other possible explanation than an unproven coincidence theory. Coincidence theorists like to postulate that if you can't prove anything else (and what can really be 'proven' in politics anyway?), then we should just default to coincidence theories. Sorry, but I don't buy it. There are very few true coincidences, especially when money and politics is at stake. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then it's probably a duck.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 17, 2014 @ 3:57 pm

You want us to believe that when you allege a conspiracy theory, that the only alternative is a coincidence?

The reality is that usually when you lose, it was simply because your ideas did not convince, and not that your opponents engaged in some dark plot to frustrate you.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 17, 2014 @ 4:19 pm

Your idea of a debate seems to be plugging in a random right wing talking point that may or may not even apply to the subject at hand. Aspen! Success! Cops rule! Free market! Conspiracy theory!

Scram, idiot.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 17, 2014 @ 5:42 pm

much if progressives didn't constantly make allegations that conspiracies exist?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 17, 2014 @ 3:50 pm

Just politics as usual. The money for these polls does not come out of the pockets of Mr. Cook or Mr. Latterman. Someone pays them. Those who pay them expect something in return. Rich people are not parting with their money to produce a neutral public service announcement for the city. They're creating a meme. In this case the meme is that Ed Lee is invincible. Now Latterman and Cook can take their money and still produce results that aren't to the liking of the funders. Sure, they could do that. Because... integrity and professionalism and all that. And, they would get away with that oh, about... once. That's the way the game is played, and they know the rules, particularly Latterman.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 17, 2014 @ 4:07 pm

reject every poll you don't like and every election result you didn't win.

It's like either you win or there was cheating. It never enters your head that your ideas are either wrong, unpopular or both.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 17, 2014 @ 4:22 pm

An interesting piece.

Thank you for your contribution.

Posted by Guest Lecturer on Jan. 14, 2014 @ 2:03 pm

What bothers me about this whole thing isn't that the SFBG doesn't like our methodology or results. I'm not going to lose sleep over the SFBG having a problem with us analytically. The issue is that the interview itself was done deceitfully. I was asked some general questions about methodology, and at no point was this set up to be me having to defend our work against these kind of charges.

The original article set up a dialectic that simply didn't occur, and strongly implied that I was responding to: "so you knew your work was bogus, why did you still publish?" Despite my disagreement with the SFBG on many political matters, we'd always had a good relationship because Tim was a professional, and Tim would have absolutely come back to me with the chance to defend our work more explicitly if he even sniffed any confusion. But Tim is gone, and now this. You don't need to be an analyst, even a "bogus" one, to do that math.

Posted by David Latterman on Jan. 15, 2014 @ 2:16 pm

mere fact that the editorship has passed from a professional one to an amateur.

the entire premise of SFBg, and most other forms of so-called advocacy journalism, is that the normal process of discovery gets turned upside down.

Usually, as in science, you study the facts, evidence and statistics, and then draw your conclusions from that. You may have a theory in mind, but you test it.

SFBG takes the opposite tack. It starts out with the conclusion that it wants (in this case, that Ed Lee is unpopular) and then tries to bend and twist all the facts to fit that.

Like a mad scientist trying to prove that the earth is flat, Steven distorts any and all evidence to try and push his ideological obsession. And if facts get in the way, he ignores them or tries to discredit them.

I fear you are wasting your time here.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 16, 2014 @ 9:38 am

Despite all that, you're one of the biggest supporters of this site. Your hit count probably accounts for at least half of the BG's total hit count. You must be constantly refreshing your browser day and night in order to see the last post someone wrote so that you can write some elitist, smug and snarky comment back at someone or at Steven or be the first to post on any article. You have a very distinct "signature" to your posts. It's like dog shit on the sidewalk. One can't miss them no matter how many other "Guest" commenters are here.

"I fear you are wasting your time here."

What about you? That doesn't apply to you?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 16, 2014 @ 3:54 pm
Posted by Guest on Jan. 17, 2014 @ 7:26 am

Latterman decries the lack of "professionalism" because he supposedly doesn't get to tell his side. I wonder what you'd say about the professionalism of the Chronicle then -how often do progressives get to tell their side of it on their pages when the Chronicle trashes them? All this on the comment pages of an op ed written *in* the SFBG, for the purposes of trashing the journalism of the SFBG, natch! My head is spinning.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 17, 2014 @ 8:10 am

I found his response tacky and immature. He puts out this shady, flawed poll and then gets caught doing so by the BG. They expose it and then he starts "attacking the messenger" (the BG). That's the same tactic the conservative trolls use on this site. To me, this so-called "poll" was intended to generate certain results in favor of Lee and Tech. Then he has to drag up his past experience with (mealy-mouthed) Tim Redmond as if that had anything to do with anything, I presume in order to indirectly attack/criticize Steven T. Jones. Not very mature behavior. The whole thing doesn't speak well of Latterman.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 20, 2014 @ 1:26 am

"In fact, the author is so quick to dismiss the findings of the study, which is based upon accepted methodology, and which had nothing to do with mayoral approval scores, that he actually misses the entire thrust of the study – that voters in San Francisco are deeply ambivalent about the current environment, concerned about the affordability crisis, and not trusting of local government to come up with a solution."

And considering the SF Chronicle (establishment rubbish) only focused on the macro as well, I was wondering if the distinguished pollster had admonished the SF Chronicle in such a tone?

right.

Posted by Guestagainstphilistines on Feb. 24, 2014 @ 6:41 pm

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