25 December 2007

A problem with American Research Group polling organization

With some interest in how the polls work, and some of the oddities thereof, I decided to take a look at a small group that sees some oddities in their polling: American Research Group. Not to be confused with America's Research Group, a whole different organization.

One of my first conclusions is that ARG is looking to be the true anonymous polling group! Really, they have very little in the way of public profile, and yet get their polls to be highly visible. So, when seeing things like that I do a bit of searching, and with names not coming up at their web site or any 'About Us' sort of deal, that means really searching. So the best place to start is: WHOIS domain name lookup. In this case I used Network Solutions looking for ARG and here is what I come up with (and these are public records):

Registrant:
American Research Group
814 Elm Street
Manchester, NH 03101
US

Domain Name: AMERICANRESEARCHGROUP.COM

Administrative Contact :
Bennett, L
arginc@AOL.COM
814 ELM ST
MANCHESTER, NH 03101
US
Phone: +1 603 624 4081
Fax: +1 603 627 1746

Technical Contact :
American Research Group
arginc@AOL.COM
814 Elm Street
Manchester, NH 03101
US
Phone: +1 603 624 4081
Fax: 999 999 9999

Record expires on 13-Apr-2012
Record created on 13-Apr-1999
Database last updated on 15-Dec-2007

Current Registrar: NETWORK SOLUTIONS, LLC.
IP Address: 216.177.22.1 (ARIN & RIPE IP search)
IP Location: US(UNITED STATES)-NEW HAMPSHIRE-NASHUA
Record Type: Domain Name
Server Type: Apache 2
Lock Status: clientTransferProhibited
Web Site Status: Active
DMOZ no listings
Y! Directory: see listings
Web Site Title: American Research Group
Meta Keywords: American Research Group, american research group, ARG, arg, ARG polls, arg polls, marketing research, polling, political polling, Dick Bennett, dick bennett, presidential polls, Presidential Polls, New Hampshire Poll, new hampshire poll, NH Poll, nh poll
Secure: No
E-commerce: No
Traffic Ranking: 4
Data as of: 12-Jul-2006
Now I see a few things pop out a me... first is the name Bennett L in the administrative contact and Dick Bennett in the Meta Keywords which are used for look-ups and search engines and such. Not much to go on, but a last name in NH showing up twice is a good start and from there I go to a good all-round source for things political which is the Newsmeat site and its campaign donations lookup. So I put in Bennett go to NH and go through the results coming up with one likely match that is ancient:
BENNETT, LAFELL O
MANCHESTER, NH 03104
BLAKE & DICKINSON ANDERSON, JOHN B (IND)
President
ANDERSON FOR PRESIDENT COMMITTEE $125
primary 12/24/79
That's right 1979 for John Anderson!!!
Yowza! I can't think of anyone out of organized crime or terrorism that I have gone back that far on. Given that I now have *two* names, one definite (Dick Bennett) and the other probable (Lafell Bennett). BTW I do not place a high degree of faith on initials in the FEC records as those are done via scanning and OCR so that a number of letters tend to get cross substituted when left by their lonesome (ex. Y, T, I, or E, F, R or O, Q, D).

Next up is the listing at MANTA on ARG and here is what we get:
American Research Group Inc
814 Elm St, Manchester, NH 03101-2130, United States (Map) (Add Company Info)
Phone: (603) 624-4081
SIC:Commercial Economic, Sociological, and Educational Research
Line of Business:Marketing Research

Detailed American Research Group Inc Company Profile
This company profile is for the private company American Research Group Inc, located in Manchester, NH. American Research Group Inc's line of business is marketing research.

Company Profile: American Research Group Inc

Year Started:1985
State of Incorporation:N/A
URL:N/A
Location Type:Single Location
Stock Symbol:N/A
Stock Exchange:N/A
Also Does Business As:N/A
NAICS:N/A
SIC #Code: View Details
Est. Annual Sales: View Details
Est. Employees:16
Est. Employees at Location:16
Contact Name:La Fell Bennett
Contact Title:President And Treasurer

Data above provided by D&B.
And that clears it up, the man leading this is La Fell Bennett, and as we will see later aka: Dick Bennett.

Total number of employees: 16?

So, needing to do some deeper background on individuals I decided its high time to look at where some of the polling problems come from, especially with regards to ARG. Luckily the New Hampshire Business Review has a couple of snippets from Dick Bennett on what his group sees, so those are worth extracting. First up is from 11 MAY 2007:
Dick Bennett: The New Hampshire pollster tells the Los Angeles Times, that Republicans are so disgruntled in the waning years of the Bush administration that he’s finding it difficult getting GOP voters to participate in surveys.
Well that would present a problem now, wouldn't it? People not wanting to participate in surveys...

Moving along to NHBR on 28 SEP 2007 we see this:
Dick Bennett: The Manchester-based pollster defends the omission of cell phone users in polling, saying that the people without landlines – mostly young people – “don’t vote.”
Yes, the 'cellphone' blind spot phenomena, where those without a land line don't get called. I have some bad news for Mr. Bennett on that - a lot of folks have had it with landlines and are shifting over to a cellphone only lifestyle. He might want to look into that.

Finally, to remind folks of how good ARG does, here is an article from the WaPo in 2004 looking back a bit at the 2000 race:
New Hampshire: Graveyard of Pollsters

By Richard Morin and Claudia Deane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 23, 2004; 7:55 AM

[..]

In 2000, the headline on an AP day-before-the-primary story was "Nearing the N.H. finish line; Polls declare GOP dead heat. . . . " John McCain then went on to beat George W. Bush by 18 percentage points.

The New Hampshire-based American Research Group's tracking poll ended up buried deepest in the snow bank: They had Bush winning by two the day before the primary, merely 20 points off the mark. On the Democratic side, the losing pollster at least got the winner right: The Quinnipiac poll predicted Gore would win by 17 percentage points, but he actually won by four.

It was the second debacle for ARG in as many New Hampshire Republican primaries. The day before the 1996 contest, ARG's Dick Bennett told the Union Leader, "It looks like Dole's going to win," based on the Kansan's seven point advantage in their tracking poll. He didn't, losing to Pat Buchanan by a single percentage point.
They actually did much better in 2004, missing the actual results for top spot by only 4%. The question is: luck or changed methodology? And with the problems they are seeing this year on R side, plus the 'non-voting cell phone users' concept, which would tend to skew for Obama on the D side, just how reliable is ARG?

There appears to be an interesting factor in this with Lane's Case which is a review of a lawyer's work when he became aware of a client's misrepresentation, to the lawyer, about a case and the lawyer then letting those who had brought suit know that this was the case. The case involves the death of Robert Bennett in an car accident and the ensuing mental deterioration of his wife, Jane Bennett, and the executor of his estate Lafell D. Bennett (Dick Bennett). During the time that Jane was deteriorating, Dick Bennett gave two different accountings of funds available to care for her:
The guardianship proceedings were terminated when, in March 1996, Jane Bennett became very ill and the parties agreed, out of necessity, to place her in a Keene nursing home. Additionally, Dick Bennett agreed to provide his sisters an accounting of the trust assets. The accounting indicated that, as of April 30, 1996, the fund balance was merely $65,917, compared with the almost $309,000 balance reported a half-year earlier. The sisters were suspicious and asked Attorney Little to investigate.
There is further examination of the part of lawyers in such things in Hinshaw & Culbertson but that does not address the activity of Dick Bennett in this case (which may be a criminal matter). As I am unaware of any criminal matter taken up in this case, it is left up to the individual, knowing what has gone on, to decide for themselves a few things:

1) Given Mr. Bennett's attempt to hide a substantial amount of cash from his deceased father's estate that should have been used for the care of his mother, is this sort of individual trustworthy as a head of a polling organization?

2) Given the facts in (1) and the small size of the company (16 people) what sort of influence does Mr. Bennett have within his company?

3) Given the facts in (1) and the problems Mr. Bennett himself cites in polling, is there any conflict between his activities and the problems in the polling data?

For an organization that is widely described as 'non-partisan' that should not inherently mean: ethical and above-board. There is something relatively disturbing in having such a small company given such wide credence having such an individual capable of lying to his siblings in the case of his deceased father and mentally incapacitated mother that go unquestioned.

I have problems believing that there are TWO Lafell (Dick) Bennetts in New Hampshire. There is only on Lafell D Bennett in the Manchester, NH whitepages or for all of NH in general.... so a second one would have to be a 'cell phone only' individual, which if he wasn't then he is the only one listed in the white pages and if he *was* that would put his outlook on cell phone users into serious disrepair and be quite disingenuous.

Only if he was the one listed and another, unlisted or 'cell phone only' Lafell Dick Bennett could be found would I be entirely mistaken and I would apologize for that and deeply so.

Until that time, then, I can no longer consider polling done by an organization headed by such an individual to be reputable: the ethical questions of being able to perform such activities for a private trust within his family puts a dark shadow over his public trust of running a non-partisan organization. If he had put someone else in to head up the company while holding financial interest, but taking his hands off day-to-day affairs, I would consider that an ethical act so as to not bring his private problems into the public arena. As it stands I find such activity to be distasteful and harming to his reputation and that of such a small, private concern that he runs.

23 comments:

Beyond the Clintons said...

Thanks so much for this post. I actually came across your blog trying to get information on American Research Group myself. I follow Real Clear Politics, which captures all the various polling and noticed that ARG always has poll results way off the mark compared to other polls conducted at the same time. Something is definitely fishy. I would love to see the MSM break this story...my suspicions indicate some relation to the Clinton camp.

A Jacksonian said...

My thanks!

Something is just *wrong* when an individual has sucha private life and does not recuse themselves from public policy input that could sway elections. Anyone who can take money like *that*... would such have *any* scruples at all?

Until an answer comes forth, I will not consider work by ARG valid in any way, shape or form.

tech said...

As you have done this excellent research, would you please go over to Mediamatters.com and get them to see this. Chris Matthews is promoting RealClear every day. And while they make no bones about being GOP partisans, they've been increasing using skewed stuff like this. The GOP is pushing hard for Hillary, and I think this shill of a pollster is their doing. It would mean more to Mediamatters if it came from the source-blogger. Thanks

A Jacksonian said...

Tech - My thanks!

I am non-partisan in this, and have my difficulties with ARG for the reasons stated. The poll much further than just politics, and even in 'robopolling' there can be influence on question types and manner they are presented.

Anyone willing to take money from family like this is not someone that I would trust with this in any manner: which is why I let individuals decide for themselves. You can decide, for yourself, better than anyone on what I present.

I was not greatly pleased that I had to write this, but when my suspicions are aroused and I find something like this, I tell it as I found it. Perhaps to be proven wrong, which would be a relief, truth be told. But it is fair to myself and my few readers, and that matters the most... for the best attention comes from those who need what I write, not having it pushed in their faces.

Limelight belongs to those who want it, I am not one of them. I trust my readers to do the right thing for themselves, that is all I ask.

Matte said...

I think you should get your post on Digg.com immediately. Think about it. Even CNN is now quoting this poll, and they don't even tell people who they are, let alone their methodology. But once RealClear cites them, they all do.

Someone should alert Politico or the Washpost to this scam. Not that they'll spend a dime researching it. But perhaps since so many rely on RealClear (and their GOP slant), someone can get interested. Someone should. This election is too important for these games.

A Jacksonian said...

Matte - My thanks!

All of my material is available for free with attribution.

And I thought that 'social networking' button would allow a Digg to be made... I really am not familiar with social networking sites, even while understanding their purpose, and my forays with them are less than successful.

It took me a few hours to find the material and a copy/paste of URL or entire text is 30 seconds to any who want it.

I trust my readers on where my material should go, and myself only in commenting threads. So far my ability to comment the last two days has been minimal as my Syria material, as it involves the lives of our Countrymen in Iraq, the soldiers of Spain in Lebanon, and justice for Iraqis, Lebanese, Argentinians and many others *is* a higher priority at this point.

Again, my thanks.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

way to jump to conclusions without data, tech! I imagine the entire GOP apparatus has been leaning on Real Clear to pick this up for just months!

Take a breath, willya?

Ajack - I am embarrassed that I grew up in Manchester, still live nearby, and had never heard of this scandal. Bennett sounds like bad meat, alright. Thanks.

A Jacksonian said...

AVI - My thanks!

The wonder of using this strange thing known as 'a search engine' and 'reading'.

This is, apparently, beyond the capabilities of the two parties and the MSM.

Getting actual, financial ties done requires localization, and with all those lovely primaries happening there, that gives time for a few operatives to actually try and dig into some financial dealings... if they know how to use a search engine and read...

I am coming to doubt this from the two parties and their candidates.

John said...

Excellent work on a very strange outfit. There work on this election does seem favorable to Hillary but don't forget good old imcompetence.

MysterPollster at Pollster.con did a short piece on ARG in 2005 pointing out problems with their methodology.

http://www.mysterypollster.com/main/2005/03/disclosing_part_4.html

Thanks

A Jacksonian said...

John - My thanks!

I really did not know what to expect looking at ARG. Very surprised to say the least...

And I do follow the dictum of Napoleon (amongst many others): "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

Really, there is so much of the latter in the world that the former has a hard time competing or even getting breathing space.

Steve V said...

It looks like RealClear no longer posts the ARG results. Does anyone know why this is, I've emailed them and no response. The last ARG poll they showed, for Michigan I believe, had an asterisk beside it, without explanation. After that, nothing.

A Jacksonian said...

Steve - I have no idea about RCP, can't even begin to speculate...

This primary season is proving to be quite dynamic, and while the polls are starting to show as 'trend tools' their validity for firmly doing *anything* seems to have lessened. Smaller States and closer races, in particular, are sending lots of egg around to faces, beyond ARG.

My personal trust of ARG is still at zero, however. I will trust them on nothing.

Matte said...

Here we go ahead. Suddenly ARG comes out with their first poll, and they show Clinton leading Obama by 49-43, just 2 days after a Gallup poll shows him opening up an 8 point lead over her.

http://www.pollster.com/08-WI-Dem-Pres-Primary.php

I have tried to interest two major newspaper in researching this flaky pollster, but if forget that our media never researches anything anymore. I really wish we could get the blogosphere to report what is real and not real about this company. I smell a big sham, somewhere.

A Jacksonian said...

Matte - ARG is worrying, I don't like how they are so blithely used and cited... and am coming to lose respect for those individuals and groups that cite them. This may require someone to actually get courthouse records locally... something is just not right with how 16 people cannot have their methodology checked.

This goes beyond the political, and to their other polls, too. Perhaps one of their clients or an industry 'watchdog' group for, say, marketing or advertising is needed. That is out of my bailiwick... I would be less perturbed if they didn't show up so often in the MSM. But the MSM gets its 'horserace' results and that is all that it cares about, at this point.

Matte said...

Exactly. The media today does no research. They let stories come to them. Have a reporter actually investigate a polling organization that seems to have such consistently bad results is just too expensive.

But who do you complain to about such abuse of the public interest? "Where's the outrage," as they say on Fox Noise.

A Jacksonian said...

Outrage, I've found in life, actually is highly over-rated... and causes heartburn and sudden cynicism in life. Apparently keeping your cool and your wits about you when all else goes nuts is actually something that is appreciated, for all the lack of teaching that in this latter day.

It is strange that no one, even in the local media, can actually be interested in a man running a high profile media group that tried to steal money and cut out his sisters from inheritance. That is more than a bit passing strange, to say the least. None of this 'high profile pollster found bilking family' sort of headline that could get some national attention. Still, the Napoleonic view of: never attribute to malice that which is easily explained by incompetence... is at work here. It explains conspiracy theories in a jiffy and depends on plain, old human ineptitude which, apparently like numbers, knows no bounds.

How else can one explain a high profile gun runner implicated in piracy and murder of Americans, associated with one of the top terrorists and implicated in multiple bombings, plus breaking numerous embargoes going free for nearly 25 years *untouched* by the law? Yes, incompetence doth reign... and laziness... like with Norman Hsu - they could have found them if they wanted to, but no... far too simple to find a garment industry contact or magazine, heaven forbid. Or even this thing called 'a search engine'.

Local is about the only way this will go anywhere: someone raising a hometown stink.

Matte said...

Trying to see if I can interest some bloodhounds in this story. I don't have much hope. Thanks for your efforts.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/02/15/new-and-improved-huffpoll_n_86966.html

A Jacksonian said...

Matte - My pleasure!

Still pointing out those things I think of interest or importance, and refuse to be beholden to politics. Which requires full spectrum pointing and giving plenty of dumb looks to all and sundry...

sam said...

I am not a lawyer, but are you sure you are protected against a libel charge? Given that you wrote:

1) Given Mr. Bennett's attempt to hide a substantial amount of cash from his deceased father's estate that should have been used for the care of his mother...

Slander laws were put into place to protect people's reputations against unfair damage due to false charges. You are allowed opinions of someone, but not statements of fact which are untrue and damage reputation in a community or profession. If he comes after you for this, your only recourse would be to prove that what you said was true. Unfortunately, that burden would be on you.

A Jacksonian said...

sam - That is the accusation of his two sisters in a court of law. It is slander if I knowingly and willingly report false accusations. If Mr. Bennett is not guilty that would be slander - but if the accusations are true, then they are not. In either event, funds that should have been accounted for were not and went missing while under his oversight. He was not forthcoming about that and it took a discovery process to demonstrate this.

He can have many ways to explain such things - but the discovery process itself indicates lack of openness and accountability during his time administering is father's estate when his mother depended upon him for that estate for her care.

I am more than willing to adjust my account as the facts dictate, and if he is wholly without blame in his inability to properly oversee his father's estate, then I will amend and apologize based on that... that does, however, leave open the question of his ability to properly run such a thing. It may be wholly innocuous, but the facts as given from the legal proceedings are, themselves, indicative of his managing capabilities to even have such a question come up.

The charges were brought, the discovery process went through, and others published on that process and those events, given the bind Mr. Bennett put his lawyer into, ethically. He is having his day in court on this to account to two individuals who matter far more than I do: his sisters.

You want to pin libel on someone?

Pin it on them.

They are making the charges in court.

remliberty said...

You should really be careful with conjecture like that. his account had 300k, now it doesn't = guilty?

you should also check out how many other pollsters use "only landlines", you would be surprised.

And, using your own technique of "is person trustworthy" i can't help but look at your "supporting friends and allies" part and deem you "untrustworthy".

remliberty said...

comments are screened?

should have known.

A Jacksonian said...

remliberty - the conjecture is one that was based on information at the time of the posting and the legalities being involved with them.

I am more than willing to update this based on new information, and apologize for any part of this post.

The utilization of landline only polling is one that does skew all polls and needs more than just landline input as a significant number of individuals no longer are available by landline only. As this tends to be a younger demographic or one that is highly mobile, there is an inherent bias when polling based on landline only input. This is only partially compensated for by wider range polling amongst landline calls.

For trustworthiness I examine the ethics of the person involved, especially when they have influence on public affairs. That often leads me without much trust in such figures in the political or corporate realm. How you judge it is your affair.

All comments are screened after an initial open period. Far too much comment spam is being generated by third parties to do otherwise. I am sorry if you think this is nefarious or intolerant, but it is part of the reality of having a low output blog that I cannot afford a higher capacity screening system than what is provided for free.