Zogby Zinger: Hillary Aide Should Temper Criticism 'With a Little Bit of Truth'

"You sort of have to be a little careful. There's a whole campaign handbook of things that you say to dismiss polls. But you should mire them in a little bit of truth." -- John Zogby, responding to criticism by Mark Penn, chief Hillary Clinton strategist, of Zogby's online polling.

Mark Twain, famously warning against getting into a spat with newspapers, said "never pick a fight with someone who buys their ink by the barrel." To his chagrin, Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton's chief campaign strategist, is learning a modern corollary: never pick a fight with someone with three hours of national airtime. And for gosh sakes, don't use arguments in picking the fight so false as to be child's play to disprove, and don't leave obvious fingerprints when you try to intimidate the networks.

View video here.

As noted here, Penn went on yesterday's "Morning Joe" and petulantly told host Joe Scarborough that a Zogby poll that showed Hillary losing to all the leading Republicans is "a meaningless poll, and really, frankly, shouldn't even be on your show." Seeking to undercut the poll's credibility, Penn flatly claimed "that was Zogby's first interactive, on-line poll ever."

Their knuckles thus rapped by Penn, did the Clinton campaign really expect Scarborough or John Zogby to sit still? Within an hour, Fritz Wenzel of the Zogby firm shot back with comments with which I updated my item. Wenzel later wrote a column of his own at the Zogby site that Drudge picked up. Then this morning, it was John Zogby's turn on Morning Joe. He appeared at 6:29 AM ET today.

JOE SCARBOROUGH: John, we were feeling guilty yesterday after Mark Penn came on. Because he's a great pollster, as you know, he's one of the best in the business. He's written a great book. I like him. But he tried to make me feel badly about putting up your polls. Basically said it was garbage, didn't have history, this was the first time you've ever done anything like that before. Should we apologize to America?

ZOGBY [chuckling]: No. Good morning. You know, what I'm feeling guilty about, just yesterday I bought 10 copies of his book for my staff and I'm holding onto the receipt. I've got to take them all back now.

SCARBOROUGH: So, let's go through a few points here. First he said this is the first time you've ever done a poll like this before. Did you conduct polls like this before, for instance in the 2006 elections?

ZOGBY: Absolutely. We go back to 1998. That's when we began researching and developing our online polls. We brought them out in the 2004 election and 2006.

SCARBOROUGH: How accurate do they prove to be?

ZOGBY: They were very accurate in both election cycles. There were a couple of states that we blew, quite frankly, Colorado and Arkansas in 2006. But the 2004 version were perfect. And on a national level they were right down to the percentile in terms of the actual voting behavior. When we drill down to some of the states we saw where we made a few mistakes in both cycles but we actually drilled them down to some of the smaller states.

SCARBOROUH: I had somebody tell me yesterday, they did some research and said you got 17 outof 18 of the senate races right in 2006.

ZOGBY: Yup.

SCARBOROUGH: If you did that, you did a hell of a lot better than most pollsters.

ZOGBY: We did, yeah.

SCARBOROUGH: Let me ask you about the Clinton campaign. I understand, also, that after chastising us for mentioning your poll, even suggesting that Americans know this information which we're going to give to them in a minute, after we make sure that we can take it out of quarantine, that actually your biggest -- the campaign that has been your number one customer in requesting polls is who?

ZOGBY: The Clinton campaign.

SCARBOROUGH: Oh really?

ZOGBY: Penn & Schoen [Penn's polling firm] they call, every time they call for our telephone surveys and they call for our online surveys and they ask us also for additional cross-tabulated data from both. And so, I was just kind of curious, you know, it's one thing to attack the poll but it's another thing to say, to try to dismiss it as the first time. Well, they've got a whole backlog of Zogby online polls that they've been studying now for at least five years.

SCARBOROUGH: Online polls. So they actually look at these online polls, and they've been studying them for five years despite the fact they say this is the very first online poll you've ever conducted. That's very interesting.

ZOGBY: It is very interesting. You sort of have to be a little careful. You know, there's a whole campaign handbook of things that you say to dismiss polls. But you should mire them in a little bit of truth.

SCARBOROUGH: You have to be careful!

ZOGBY: Yeah.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Is there anything different about this specific poll in question we were talking about, anything that would potentially make it less effective in terms of its results?

ZOGBY: No. Honestly, this is not only the wave of the future, this is the wave of the now. It is random probability sampling based on a very large database of emails that we have that are representative of American voting population. I would say the methodology is about 88% to 90% there. We're calibrating this methodology at the same time, as everybody knows, the telephone is becoming more and more troublesome for us.

SCARBOROUGH: Exactly. All right, John, thank you so much. I appreciate you coming on.

ZOGBY: One other point, Joe, if I could.

SCARBOROUGH: Sure.

ZOGBY: You know, the Gallup poll that everyone is using to compare ours was taken two weeks ago, it was taken November 11th through 14th.

SCARBOROUGH: Really?

ZOGBY: Ours was taken November 22nd to 26th. A lot can happen in that time span.

SCARBOROUGH: And a lot has happened in that time span. More recent polls like yours have shown Hillary Clinton is slipping in Iowa and other places. All right. Thank you so much, John. And, again, the points to underline here are, first of all, that people just don't answer the telephone like they did even five years ago.

BRZEZINSKI: No they don't; they actually hang up.

SCARBOROUGH: So pollsters have to finds different ways. They're doing this. He got 17 out of 18 right in 2006 when you look at Virginia, Montana all these other close states, that's better than most pollsters and pundits. And again, I'm not knocking Mark Penn. If I were in Mark Penn's position I may have done the same thing too. I just don't like people coming onto my show, chastising me for using a poll, it's very reliable. But let me tell you what the Clinton administration, what the Clinton campaign did that worked. Is, they froze people. All day at this network and a couple other networks, they froze people who were afraid to use the poll. And now we've got the information out. And when we come back we're going to talk to Bill Richardson and then we're going to show the Zoby poll again -- without feeling the least bit of guilt.

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.