"If it's in the news, it's in our polls" is the slogan for Rasmussen Reports. Now there are more polls than ever. Last August, Rasmussen announced an infusion of capital from the New York-based Noson Lawen Partners, which bolstered funding for national tracking polls, most notably the president's approval rating. His Web site claims more than 100,000 subscribers and features ads from the National Guard and Dockers. Rasmussen said he plans to expand the site to deliver more lifestyle and economic data. The political polling, he said, was the "low-hanging fruit."
That expansion has made some of the old guard queasy.
"The firm manages to violate nearly everything I was taught what a good survey should do," said Mark Blumenthal, a pollster at the National Journal and a founder of Pollster.com. He put Rasmussen in the category of pollsters whose aim, first and foremost, is "to get their results talked about on cable news."
Nate Silver, who runs the polling analysis site FiveThirtyEight, soon to be hosted on the Web site of the New York Times, faults Rasmussen for polling only likely voters, which reduces the pool to "political junkies."
"It paints a picture of an electorate that is potentially madder than it really is," agreed Scott Keeter, director of survey research at Pew Research Center and vice president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR). "And potentially more conservative than it really is."
Rasmussen said he didn't take the criticism personally, but he grew visibly annoyed when asked why he didn't make his data -- especially the percentage of people who responded to his firm's calls -- more transparent.
"If I really believed for a moment that if we played by the rules of AAPOR or somebody else they would embrace us as part of the club, we would probably do that," he said, his voice taking on an edge. "But, number one, we don't care about being part of the club."
That irritation extended toward traditional news outlets -- including this one -- that have refused to cite his polls. As a result, he argued, newspapers and networks were ludicrously late in recognizing the rise of Scott Brown in Massachusetts. His polling detected that groundswell earlier than most competitors and set off alarm bells inside the Oval Office, according to a senior administration official, who would not be quoted by name discussing private deliberations within the White House.
"Even if you don't like our poll and think the activists are idiots for paying attention to us," he said, the results were "part of the discussion."
Candidates have notably shown less reluctance citing Rasmussen's work, when convenient.
"Rasmussen Poll Shows Carly Fiorina Closing the Gap With Barbara Boxer," the Fiorina campaign announced in a June 11 statement. On May 27, the campaign of Linda McMahon, the Republican nominee in the Connecticut Senate race, griped about a Quinnipiac University poll that showed her Democratic challenger, Richard Blumenthal, maintaining a healthy advantage despite mischaracterizing his military service. A Rasmussen poll "conducted last week showed Linda trailing Blumenthal by just three points," McMahon's campaign argued.
On June 3, after Rasmussen measured the race again, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee rebutted: "Even Rasmussen has Blumenthal with 20+ lead on McMahon." From phones to laptops
Rasmussen's business model is blooming just as the polling industry is withering.
"I don't think the Rasmussen method is going to be the dominant method," said Penn, who was Bill Clinton's pollster in the White House and Hillary Rodham Clinton's in the 2008 primary. "The next presidential election is probably the last presidential election where phone polling is the dominant methodology."
For all his differences with the polling establishment, Rasmussen's business is just as dependent on people answering the home phone, more so because a federal law has banned "robo-polls" from calling cellphones.
"When you were growing up, you screamed, 'I got it, I got it,' and raced your sister to the telephone," said Jay Leve, who runs SurveyUSA, a Rasmussen competitor who uses similar automated technology. "Today, nobody wants to get the phone."
Leve thinks telephone polling, and the whole concept of "barging in" on a voter, is kaput. Instead, polls will soon appear in small windows on computer or television screens and respondents will reply at their leisure. For Doug Rivers, the U.S. chief executive of YouGov, a U.K.-based online polling company that is building a vast panel of online survey takers, debating the merits of Rasmussen's method struck him as "a little odd given we're in 2010." Other pollsters are experimenting with smartphones.
Wherever polling goes next, Rasmussen insisted, he will be in the mix.
"We're working on something, and I'm hoping to roll it out this summer," he said, blocking further inquiry with the palm of his hand. "I can't say anything about what we're doing." http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/16/AR2010061605090.html