<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Al Giordano

Opening Statement, April 18, 2000
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Penn & Schoen's Inaccurate and Dishonest "Exit Poll" on Chávez Vote

Maneuver by U.S. Political Consultants Violated Venezuelan Law and Professional Ethics Codes

By Al Giordano
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

August 19, 2004

CARACAS, VENEZUELA AND SOMEWHERE IN AMÉRICA: The United States-based, British-owned, political consulting firm bearing the names of pollsters Mark Penn, Doug Schoen, and Michael Berland, committed a crime under Venezuelan election law on Sunday: It violated the law against releasing “exit poll” data before polls had closed.

In the firm’s own press release, Penn, Schoen & Berland admitted that they knew they were releasing the supposed “exit poll” information while voting was still underway:

New York, August 15, 2004, 7:30pm EST – With Venezuela’s voting set to end at 8:00pm EST according to election officials, final exit poll results from Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, an independent New York-based polling firm, show a major victory for the ‘Yes’ movement, defeating Chavez in the Venezuelan presidential recall referendum.”

The careless and malicious approach that Penn, Schoen & Berland displayed with the Venezuela referendum on the continued tenure of President Hugo Chávez can be seen by the hour when the firm put out its press release: Voting in Venezuela had already been extended another two-and-a-half hours, until 10 p.m. (it would later be extended past midnight) so that all the millions of Venezuelan citizens still waiting on line to vote would be able to cast their ballots.

Thus, the gringo-British polling firm played fast and loose with the facts, and the law, in ways that it would never have been able to get away with in the United States on an election day. Justice demands that it not get away with this unethical behavior in Latin America either. To wit: If the pollsters and Penn, Schoen & Berland knew that polling hours had already been extended when they released their poll, then the pollsters clearly intended to deceive. But if the pollsters did not know what had already been announced in the news media in Venezuela, that would indicate a level of reckless disregard for the truth and incompetence as pollsters, as well as laziness at the hour the pollsters were supposedly tracking the vote, that will seriously stain the firm’s ability to meddle credibly in Latin American elections – or any elections anywhere – ever again.

Kind reader, it gets even worse: Penn, Schoen & Berland’s “exit poll” now turns out to have been wrong… not just a little bit wrong… but a lot wrong. And beyond being very, very, inaccurate, the firm deceived the public in how it represented this sloppily conducted survey that ignored the basic methodology that all serious pollsters undertake: the “exit poll” resulted to be inaccurate by a total of 36 percentage points! Penn, Schoen & Berland got the “Yes” vote – the anti-Chavez vote – wrong by 18 percentage points, and the pro-Chavez “No” vote wrong by another 18 percentage points… and the firm must now be forced to face the music of its own deception: “a 36-point margin of error” simply does not credibly exist in the field of professional polling.

Now it comes out that the poll, according to Associated Press, was not conducted by the firm’s own employees, as falsely stated by the firm’s press release, but, rather, by a partisan, U.S.-government funded, anti-Chávez, activist group, Súmate, which paid the firm of Penn, Schoen, and Berland, apparently, for no more than the lease to misuse Penn, Schoen & Berland’s names to give credibility to incompetent and/or dishonest results. The early release of these false results was obviously intended to discredit the real results and cast a shadow on the final tally of the most fair, clean, and participated democratic referendum in Latin American history.

And yet the press release announcing the untrue “results” did not come from Súmate in Caracas… but, rather, from the Washington offices of Penn, Schoen & Berland. Almost five hours before polls closed, Penn, Schoen & Berland claimed that “Chavez has been ousted by referendum.”

This is the rest of the text of that press release:

The Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates exit poll shows 59% in favor of recalling Chavez (the “Si” or “Yes”, anti-Chavez vote) and 41% against recalling Chavez (the “No”, pro-Chavez vote).

The poll results referred to in this release are based on an exit poll just concluded in Venezuela.

This is a national exit poll conducted in 267 voting centers throughout the country. The centers were selected to be broadly representative of the national electorate in regional and demographic terms.

In these centers, 20,382 voters were interviewed. Voters were selected at random but according to a strict demographic breakdown by age and gender to ensure a representative mix reflective of the national electorate. Those voters who were randomly selected to participate in this exit poll were asked to indicate only their vote (“Si” – for “Yes” – or “No”) on a small ballot which they could then personally drop into a large envelope in order to maintain secrecy and anonymity. Data was sent by exit poll workers to a central facility in Caracas, Venezuela for processing and verification.

The margin of error for these final exit poll results referred to in this release is under +/-1%.

Penn, Schoen & Berland, in essence, gave an activist group, drunk on partisanship, the keys to the family car, and then claimed a one-percent margin of error for a poll that drove 36 points off the highway of honesty and accuracy.

This is not the first time that Penn, Schoen & Berland has been caught violating the norms and ethics of professional political polling when it plays in Latin America.

Mexico 2000: Penn & Schoen as Electoral Delinquents

Rob Allyn and Marcela Berland at a press conference in Mexico City, in June of 2000
Photo: El Universal
In June 2000, as Mexico approached a July 2nd presidential election day, The Political Hotline in Washington, DC reported:

“In Mexico, pollsters Penn & Schoen (D) and Rob Allyn® have launched a project called “Democracy Watch,” with the stated goal of conducting the country’s “largest exit poll ever” on Election Day in order to ensure that “the process is free of fraud and that Mexico transitions to a real democracy.” After conducting at least 10,000 exit interviews, they plan to announce their results when the polls close at 8:00 p.m. Sunday—3 hours before official exit polls conducted for the independent Federal Elections Institute (IFE) are to be released. None of this appears unwelcome, especially in a country with a long history of election fraud. However, Penn, Schoen and Allyn, have raised serious questions about their intentions by refusing to say who is funding their project. And in so doing, they have denied the direct request by the IFE to reveal this information and register themselves as accredited exit pollsters.

“The independent El Universal newspaper has said that Mexicans have a right to know if “Democracy Watch” is a vehicle for foreign manipulation of their country’s delicate politics on its most delicate day, or if the pollsters are being paid by backers of one of the campaigns. NarcoNews.com shrieks the same question in English. The professional society for pollsters, the American Association of Public Opinion Research, states in its “Standard for Minimal Disclosure” that a pollster must disclose “who sponsored the survey, and who conducted it.” Critics are asking, if Penn & Schoen and Allyn would not work in this manner in the U.S., why should it be acceptable in Mexico?”

In Mexico in 2000, Penn & Schoen violated Mexican law, refusing to disclose who paid them to do an “exit poll” on election day: Later, the purportedly Democratic party-oriented polling company’s Republican consultant partner, Rob Allyn, admitted to the Dallas Morning News that the secret client behind the project was the campaign of candidate – now Mexico’s president – Vicente Fox.

In Venezuela in 2004, the company now known as Penn, Schoen & Berland violated Venezuelan law, by releasing supposed “exit polls” before the real polls had closed. And in both cases – Mexico 2000 and Venezuela 2004 – the pollsters violated the ethics governing the polling industry… in 2000 they refused to disclose who paid them… in 2004 they failed to disclose that they let an activist group take the poll to which they leased their company name.

You can read more about Penn & Schoen’s Mexican violations of law and ethics standards in this translation of a June 20, 2000 editorial by Mexico’s largest daily newspaper, and in this June 2000 email exchange between Narco News and Penn & Schoen’s partner in the Mexican shenanigans, Rob Allyn. Finally, you can see how Penn & Schoen, once before, violated the ethics code of the American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) in its Mexican deceptions.

The AAPOR ethics code reveals that, once again, Penn, Schoen & Berland violated that code in a Latin American country. In 2000, in violation of that professional code, the company refused to disclose who funded its work. In 2004, the violations are more serious still.

For example, the AAPOR ethics code states:

Good professional practice imposes the obligation upon all public opinion researchers to include, in any report of research results, or to make available when that report is released, certain essential information about how the research was conducted. At a minimum, the following items should be disclosed:

1. Who sponsored the survey, and who conducted it.

And yet, in the Penn, Schoen & Berland press release on Sunday, there was no disclosure of the fact that the “research” was conducted by members of an anti-Chávez activist group: Instead, the pollsters claimed that, “final exit poll results from Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, an independent New York-based polling firm, show a major victory for the ‘Yes’ movement, defeating Chavez in the Venezuelan presidential recall referendum.”

Penn, Schoen & Berland, once again, played fast and loose with the law and the truth – and its own industry’s professional code of ethics – in a Latin American democracy. This is more than unprofessional and incompetent: It is morally reprehensible. And anyone who still claims to believe that the Venezuela “exit poll” by Penn, Schoen & Berland and its activist group client reveals anything but Penn, Schoen & Berland’s willingness to lease its name to dishonest and hidden agendas, is either equally unethical, or just plain stupid.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America