Sunday, August 26, 2012

Pew Debate Advisory Standards Project: most people want third parties involved in debates

. . .  but Raph Begleiter of the UD Center for Political Communication and Micheline Boudreau of Delaware First Media do not appear to have read that part of the book.

When Libertarian US House candidate Scott Gesty received his "invitation" to the UD/DFM statewide candidate debate on 16-17 October, the letter from Begleiter and Boudreau was accompanied by inclusion "standards" drawn from the Pew Charitable Trust Debate Advisory Standards Project.

These are the standards that virtually guarantee the elimination of all third party candidates in the Delaware debates, to include not just Scott Gesty, but also Alex Pires, Andrew Groff, Bernie August, and Margaret McKeown.

Intrigued, I attempted to find the Pew recommendations and study online, and discovered . . . you can't.

So I bought it.  You can, too, if you'd like to question what I am about to tell you.

In the preface, Ronald A. Faucheux makes the following lofty claim:
The idea is to encourage substantive debates with fair formats and large audiences, and to do so in a comprehensive way that is unrelated to the agenda of any candidate, party or ideology. [p. 13; emphasis added]
This is immediately followed by standards for "candidate inclusion" that are almost exactly the standards mailed to the Gesty campaign by Begleiter and Boudreau.

What's that "almost"?  Maybe something, maybe nothing.

The Pew project recommends different debate standards based upon how far from election day a debate will be held.  More than 30 days out from election day is called the out period, and less than 30 days out is called the pre-election period.  UD/DFM has carefully placed the only major statewide debate they will hold just inside the pre-election period.  Why is this significant?

Here's the rational from Pew:
It is fair and reasonable that inclusion criteria during the pre-election period may be more difficult to meet than during the out-period.  If a non-major or third-party candidate who is given the opportunity to participate in public debates during the out-period does not earn significant public support going into the final 30 days of an election campaign, debate sponsoring organizations that wish to limit participation have an acceptable rationale to tighten the inclusion criteria [p. 17].
Two notes here:

1)  Nowhere does Pew ever define who decided that it was "fair and reasonable" to make the standards tougher the closer to the election the debate was held.  This is treated as a self-evident point, throughout the document, even though--as we shall shortly see below--that's not what many of the people that Pew interviewed during the process of developing these standards actually recommended.

2)  Note also that Pew doesn't mandate such increased standards, it merely provides them for "debate sponsoring organizations that wish to limit participation."

What is most damning for the UD/DFM choices is the results of the nationwide poll that Pew took while developing these standards, and which both Pew and UD/DFM completely decided to ignore.  Because you cannot find this on the internet, I'm going to quote it in full:
Should Third-Party Candidates be Included?
KEY FINDING:  Voters are much more likely to include non-major party candidates in debates than to exclude them [emphasis in original].
One of the stickiest issues of staging political candidate debates in general elections is whether to include non-major party candidates, such as nominees of the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, the Natural Law Party, and the Reform Party.
A majority of the voters surveyed (53%) said candidates from these parties should always be included in general election debates [emphasis added].
In addition, 39% think third-party candidates should only be included if they have a reasonable chance to win the election.
In total, nearly nine-of-10 voters think non-major third-party candidates should have at least some access to candidate debates.
Only one-out-of-20 voters (5%) said flatly that non-major party candidates should never be included.
Voters under 30 (61%) and independents (59%) are the two groups most likely to want non-major party candidates to always be included in debates [p. 89].
So let's get this straight . . . in Pew's own national survey,

53% of all voters said third parties should ALWAYS be included.
50% of independent voters said third parties should ALWAYS be included.
61% of voters under 30 said third parties should ALWAYS be included.

But then Pew, Ralph Begleiter, and Micheline Boudreau decided to say, "Ah, f--k them!" and use standards that would almost always result in the exclusion of such candidates.

(And if the fact that GOP candidates almost never draw above 40% in statewide races anymore, or the fact that Governor Markell, Senator Carper, and Representative Carney all sit on the UD Center's Advisory Council is something you don't know, you might think that there was some method to their madness besides protecting Democratic incumbents.)

It gets worse, actually.

Pew supplemented its own survey with focus-group interviews of voters in Virginia and New Jersey, in order to put real opinions behind these statistics.

And, guess what, before Pew, Begleiter and Boudreau said "Ah, f--k them!" the voters they surveyed agreed with the nationwide poll:
Participants in both states agreed that although including many candidates might make debates more difficult, minor party candidates should be included--in both presidential and lower-level races--for the sake of fairness.  However, when probed on the issue, participants agreed that the number of candidates needed to be limited to make debates workable.  Most accepted four candidates as an appropriate limit.  However, participants could not come up with a way to decide who should be included or excluded. [p. 97] 
This needs just a little fisking.

First, please note that Pew got the consensus that no more than four candidates should be included in a debate.  OK, guess what?  In Delaware in 2012 if all ballot-qualified candidates in October were allow in, there would be no more than four candidates in any debate:

Governor:  Markell (D), Cragg (R)
Lieutenant Governor:  Denn (D), Valenzuela (R), McKeown (L)
Senator:  Carper (D), Wade (R), Pires (I), Groff (G)
US Representative:  Carney (D), Kovach (R), Gesty (L), August (G)

Now note the careful trick Pew did with the question about exclusion:  Pew asked the respondents to develop standards for inclusion/exclusion, and then reported that they "could not come up with a with to decide who should be included or excluded."

So then Pew went and did it for them, but never went back to see if anybody thought these standards were fair.

This, if you do survey work, is a carefully loaded tactic you use to get the result you want, while pretending to be non-partisan.

If you have a specific result in mind, you ask respondents to create a process (something that they will never be prepared to do), which allows you --when they fail--to ignore their input.

If you are being honest, you put your own preferred standard (unmarked) into a group of at least four other sets of standards and let the respondents pick.  That way you get a real read on what people think.

What Pew did in this project is the height of intellectual dishonesty, because you are supposed to assume that the nationwide polling, the focus groups, and the literature that they cite all agree with their standards.

And they don't.

Ralph Begleiter and Michelline Boudreau know all this, of course.  They know that the Pew project came out of a burning desire on the part of the two major parties that financed it to avoid every having a Ross Perot or a Jesse Venture or a Gary Johnson or a Scott Gesty manage to crash the carefully defended gates of the two-party system that they are shilling for.

They are no longer reporters, or journalists, or academics, they are now longer reporting the news or facilitating the process--they have become participants in using their positions of influence to cut down (consciously) the range of arguments and ideas that the American people (or the citizens of Delaware) shall be able to see and hear.

And, unfortunately, they will continue to get away with it.

Oh, and one last point:  when Pew set up this Project under Faucheux, they didn't set it up under a legitimate researcher, they set it up under a political hack.


tom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Good presentation, but they are not listening.