By John Stauber on March 21, 2007

(NOTE: See an update on this issue at: http://www.prwatch.org/node/6081 )

On Sunday, March 18, Sheldon Rampton and I wrote "Iraq: Why Won't MoveOn Move Forward?", an article now widely circulated online. It has helped to focus debate on whether the Democratic Party is really attempting to end the war in Iraq, or is content to simply manage the war for supposed electoral advantage in 2008.

The liberal advocacy group MoveOn has 3.2 million members. Yesterday MoveOn misleadingly claimed that the results from their recent member survey showed overwhelming support for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's bill on Iraq. "The results are in from our poll on whether to support Speaker Pelosi's proposal on Iraq: 84.6% of MoveOn members voted to support the bill," according to MoveOn. However, this claim flunks the smell test and is far from accurate.

MoveOn is engaging in that oldest of PR games known as 'lies, damned lies and statistics." The truth is that 96% of MoveOn's 3.2 million members did not even bother to vote in their member survey. Most of MoveOn's members probably ignored and failed to open the email, or were disgusted by the slanted questions designed to show support for the Pelosi bill. MoveOn claims that slightly over 126,000 people voted in what I pointed out to them was a very biased pro-Pelosi poll. The MoveOn question essentially provided a choice of Pelosi and peace (Yes), or Republicans and war (No). Gee, guess how that one gets answered?

The real news is that 96% of MoveOn's huge list did not vote with them to support the Pelosi bill. When MoveOn says 84.6% of their members chose Pelosi's bill, they mean 84.6% of the measly four percent of their members who bothered to open their email and respond. A polling of members in which 96% do not vote is no polling at all. Unfortunately MoveOn, while claiming to represent their overwhelmingly anti-war membership, is being unaccountable and anti-democratic.

An article in Politico.com makes clear the crucial role MoveOn has played by supporting the Democratic leadership over the large caucus of pro-peace progressive Democrats. Here's a description of how the MoveOn survey was used inside the Capitol: "A jovial Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger went up to fellow Maryland Rep. Albert Wynn as he sat off the floor with a reporter and told Wynn that a vote against the bill was a vote for Republican victory. He waved a copy of the MoveOn.org press release backing the measure. 'Have you seen this?' Ruppersberger asked. 'Yeah, who did that?' replied Wynn, a member of the Out of Iraq Caucus."

The biased "poll" that MoveOn emailed to its 3.2 million subscribers reads like a Soviet ballot. Many liberal strategists inside the Beltway believe that what the House leadership is doing is smart and practical politics. In fact, this is back room power politics of the worst sort, a cynical 'Let It Bleed' strategy that abandons efforts to halt the war and is geared toward getting Democrats elected in 2008 by blaming the continuing quagmire of the Iraq occupation on the Republicans.

The American people deserve leadership and honesty from their political representatives and from groups that claim to be representing them. A choice between Republican or Democratic gamesmanship on Iraq is no choice at all when it allows the dying and suffering of tens of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to go on, all for some campaign leverage down the road in 2008. As confused as the American public has been by the Bush propaganda that sold the war, and the failure of the mainstream media to confront and expose it, there is now a solid majority of Americans who want the US out now or in the very immediate future. They are not being served by partisan gamesmanship, nor is their country.

John Stauber

In 1993, John Stauber founded the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and its magazine, PR Watch, in Madison, Wisconsin.

Comments

Almost sounds like someone with a lot of cynical DLC-style pro-corporate, pro-elite, pro-money triangulation experience has his fingerprints all over Rahming this down MoveOn's throat.

from the bondage of Pharaoh Rahmses ain't gonna be easy. Here in New Hampshire, our two new Democratic representatives defeated not only the Republican incumbents but, as challengers from the left, the Democratic national machine's favored candidates in the primary.

You'd be unlikely to remember that while reading this op-ed in the Concord [N.H.] Monitor by Rep. Carol Shea-Porter:

http://www.cmonitor.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070321/REPOSITORY/703210344/1017/OPINION

Primary challenger or not, she's heaving those blocks up the pyramid with the rest of them now. Here's a reply from a prominent local activist:

http://www.cmonitor.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070322/REPOSITORY/703220337/1028/OPINION02

Shea-Porter says, "This bill will mark the beginning of the end of the war." I wonder how many "beginnings" this "end" will end up having?

A poll is a poll. It is not meant to capture the entire populations opinion. This is both impractical and impossible. Bear this in mind, when a presidential approval poll is taken a viable sample is generally 1,100 people. There are 230,000,000 Americans! 126K of 3.2 million is more than enough for an adequate sample.

There are too many legitimate concerns and issues that we can address with this supplemental to get bogged down in sensationalism. This is a genuine debate about how we address Iraq. Do we need to resort to fallacious statements and invectives?

"Bear this in mind, when a presidential approval poll is taken a viable sample is generally 1,100 people."

Sorry, but a lecture on poll sampling can't change this fact: "Eli, Nita, Tom, Carrie and the MoveOn.org Political Action Team" told us flatly that "84.6% of MoveOn members voted to support the bill, 9.2% said they weren't sure and 6.2% voted to oppose it."

That's "MoveOn members," not "those who responded."

Reputable pollsters tell you up front how they conducted each poll. Why didn't MoveOn's results announcement say how many -- I'll be generous and not say "how few" -- people responded? Because it might not have seemed so impressive against that 3.2 million?

"There are too many legitimate concerns and issues that we can address with this supplemental to get bogged down in sensationalism."

Yes, like compensation for damaged spinach growers. Like the built-in waivers saving the Bush the trouble of appending a signing statement even if he decided to sign it.

Here's a question John didn't raise: "Support our member-driven organization: MoveOn.org Political Action is entirely funded by our 3.2 million members." Who's a "member"? Someone who's responded to one mailing? Someone who's actually given money? Anyone who hasn't gotten around to opting out of the mailing list? This must present a bit of a dilemma to MoveOn: claim too few "members" and you don't seem so important; claim too many and the number of "members" who respond seems less impressive.

Come on. This wasn't grassroots "member-driven" action; this was establishment agenda-driven fourflushing, pure and simple.

To follow up on Mutternich's response, MoveOn claimed that its "poll" was a vote. Here's what they stated: "84.6% of MoveOn members voted to support the bill." A poll may be a poll, but a poll is certainly not a vote.

Moreover, MoveOn's "poll" was really a push poll. Rather than capture the opinions of its members, it was designed to shape the opinions of its members and the general public (Congress in particular). It accomplished this by selective presentation of choices and highly tendentious wording of the question.

Ask any professional pollster, and they'll tell you that opinion poll results are very susceptible to manipulation depending on how the questions are worded. Studies have even found that merely changing the order in which questions are asked in a poll can substantially change the way people respond. In order to get a result that genuinely measures the opinions of a group, therefore, considerable care must be taken to ensure that the wording of questions does not determine the response. In the case of MoveOn's "poll," however, considerable care was taken to ensure that the wording did determine the response.

What we have, therefore, is a manipulative poll, inflated by MoveOn's own rhetoric into a "vote," and then used to twist arms in Congress for passage of a bill that provides further funding of the war in Iraq. You're right that there are "legitimate concerns and issues" with this supplemental. The most fundamental issue is, "why should Congress offer additional funding for continuation of the war?" Within the peace movement, however, an important secondary issue is, "Why is MoveOn.org working so hard to convince its members that supplemental funding for the war is a step toward peace?"

As Howard Zinn recently stated, "To me it is tantamount to the abolitionists accepting a two-year timeline for ending slavery, while giving more money to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act."

Dear reader,

Eli Pariser asked me to post on our site the letter they are sending to angry members. Here is below. I'll write a response to it. Eli tacked on a bunch of comments he claims support their position. I've taken those off, you can click on the link below and read them. I've gotten scores of emails damning moveon and thanking Sheldon and me for exposing their duplicity. In fact, I have never received such an overwhelming positive response to anything I've written.
John
----------
THE MOVEON RESPONSE....

http://pol.moveon.org/iraq/supplemental_stauber.html

Do MoveOn Members Really Support the Iraq Supplemental?
By Eli Pariser, Executive Director, MoveOn.org Political Action

Friday, March 23, 2007

John Stauber has posted several articles arguing that MoveOn members don't
actually support the Iraq supplemental, or were duped into supporting it.
This isn't true, but because there are dedicated antiwar activists who
oppose this bill, it's worth explaining how we arrived at this position and
pointing out the flaws in Stauber's analysis.

In order to strengthen the hand of progressives who were pushing for a
better bill, MoveOn refrained from taking a public or private position until
late last week. Then, when the final bill was negotiated, we put the
question to our membership: should we support it? 126, 000 MoveOn members
participated in the vote. 84.6% supported the bill. 9.2% said they weren't
sure and 6.2% opposed it.

Why? The Iraq Accountability Act will, for the first time, set a deadline in
law for the withdrawal of American troops. If it passes, it will force
President Bush to agree to an end date for the war or to stand in front of
the American people-who want a timeline-and declare his support for war
without end by vetoing it . It's a first step to ending the war. That's why
MoveOn members told us they support the bill.

It's clearly hard for John Stauber to believe that so many progressives
would support a bill that provides continued funding for the war, so he
suggests that we gamed the poll. Here are some of the biggest inaccuracies
in his articles:

The Claim: MoveOn members didn't have a fair shot at participating in the
vote because, in Stauber's words, "nothing in the subject line [of the
email] indicated it was particularly important."

The Reality: Our survey email had the subject line, "Important decision on
Iraq." It's hard to be clearer than that. (NOTE: Stauber quietly removed
this embarrassing claim from the posted version of his article after we
flagged it on a progressive listserv, though he has not to our knowledge
admitted the error).

The Claim: People were biased by our email because we noted that most
Congressional progressives are supporting the bill and Republicans are
opposing it.

The Reality: Leaving aside the question of whether this political context
is, in fact, important for MoveOn members to know, it didn't change the
outcome of the poll.

We do ongoing polling of small groups of MoveOn members to ensure we're
accurately representing our membership. Over the last week we experimented
with different ways of doing the survey. Whether we provided information on
the bill, or just asked people to vote based on what they already know, or
to look at external sources, the result was always same-the vast majority of
members indicated support for the Iraq Accountability Act. For example, last
Friday, we sent this very simple email:

Dear MoveOn member,

The Democratic Leadership will debate their plan for Iraq soon, and we'll be
asked what MoveOn members think about it. Can you take just a quick minute
to complete the survey at the link below?

Completing the survey takes just a few minutes. MoveOn's mission is to serve
members like you-so we really want to know what you think. Please help set
MoveOn's course on Iraq.

Thanks for all you do.

-Nita, Tom, Eli, Justin and the MoveOn.org Political Action Team
Friday, March 16th, 2007

On the survey page, people read only this text:

The Representatives Pelosi, Obey and Murtha announced their plan for Iraq
recently. Based on what you know about their plan for the Iraq supplemental
spending bill, what do you think MoveOn should do? (Looking to learn more?
Read the New York Times Story or read the Washington Post Story.)

The results matched larger survey we did on Sunday, where we provided more
context. People voted this way based on the content of the bill-not the
email in which we asked the question.

The Claim: Only a fraction of MoveOn members voted so this position doesn't
represent most MoveOn members.

The reality: We emailed all 3.2 million MoveOn members and gave them the
opportunity to vote. 126, 000 people did. This response rate is not unusual
for a vote like this. Our response rate in Connecticut when endorsing Ned
Lamont was nearly identical to this vote, for example. Our biggest "poll"
was the MoveOn PAC Primary in 2003, when a couple hundred thousand people
participated following a major organizing drive.

Moreover, this wasn't a survey, it was a vote. Every MoveOn member was
invited to participate. So the argument that it isn't representative of the
MoveOn membership is moot: we made our decision based on the final vote
counts, after giving everyone a chance to weight in.

The Claim: The vote was unfair because we didn't give people a choice
between the Iraq Accountability Act and the 'Lee Amendment.'

The Reality: The Lee amendment is an idea that's been discussed by
Congressional progressives to speed the withdrawal of American troops. We
didn't include it in this survey for a fairly simple reason: it hadn't been
offered. Not even in the appropriations committee. We needed to know how
MoveOn members felt about the bill that was actually coming up for a vote.

Some folks have suggested that we should have given MoveOn members a choice
- support the Iraq Accountability Act, or support the Lee Amendment. But
this doesn't make sense: they're complementary. One is an attempt to
improve the other. It would have been deceptive and confusing to pose the
question as if they were mutually exclusive.

The Lee Amendment would have made the Iraq Accountability Act stronger by
moving the final date for withdrawal of US troops from 2008 to the end of
this 2007. It's a no-brainer that most MoveOn members would support that
position. And we strongly supported progressives in their efforts to
strengthen the timeline in the final bill.

Once the Iraq Accountability Act was negotiated and finalized, the question
was, did MoveOn members feel like it was a step in the right direction, even
with a 2008 deadline. Their answer was clear: "Yes."

In other words, we weren't asking our members to vote on policy, because
their policy on Iraq is very clear: most MoveOn members want an end to the
war by the end of the year. We were asking them to make a political
decision: does voting "Yes" on the supplemental advance that policy.
Barbara Lee herself said, "I cannot stand in the way of passing a measure
that puts a concrete end date on this unnecessary war."

We know that MoveOn members are fully supportive of the content that's been
discussed for the Lee amendment. We've been clear that we'll engage to
support if it is proposed. We've asked our members to call Congress and urge
them to support the Lee amendment and anything else that would strengthen
the bill. We will continue to fight to rein in the President and bring the
troops home ASAP.

The Claim: MoveOn members didn't really understand what they were voting on.

The Reality: Reading the 30,000 comments we received make one thing very
clear: MoveOn members are very well informed, and gave this question a lot
of thought. They wish the bill did more to end the war sooner, but they
think it's an important first step and definitely support its passage.

A representative sample of these comments appears below. (You can go to their link at the top of this piece, click, and read the anonymous endorsement.)

Salon.Com
"MoveOn Moves in with Pelosi"

By Farhad Manjoo
March 23, 2007

http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2007/03/23/move_on/index.html

What precipitated the recent scuffle between MoveOn and its former allies was an e-mail that Pariser sent to MoveOn's members on Sunday, March 18, asking them to help guide the group's position on the war debate in Congress. As Salon's Michael Scherer has noted, the e-mail read like a push poll; Pariser described Pelosi's plan and Bush's opposition to it, and made only cursory mention of progressives' concerns. He did not describe plans floated by members of the House's Out of Iraq Caucus that would have funded a quick withdrawal from Iraq. "Should we support or oppose the Democrats' plan?" Pariser asked in the e-mail. Slightly more than a hundred thousand MoveOn members voted in the poll. The vast majority -- 84.6 percent -- sided with "the Democrats."

It reads like a Soviet ballot," says John Stauber, the founder of the Center for Media & Democracy, whose harsh indictment of MoveOn's survey has been a hot item on lefty blogs this week. If Pariser had more thoroughly educated members about all of the positions in the debate, many would have voted against the Pelosi plan, Stauber says. More important, MoveOn could have helped the chances of an amendment by Reps. Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters and Lynn Woolsey, leaders of the Out of Iraq Caucus, that called for withdrawal of all troops by the end of 2007. "They could have put out an alert to 3.2 million people across the country and said, 'If you do anything tomorrow, get up and call your representatives and tell them to support the Lee Amendment,'" insists CodePink's Gail Murphy. "They've got millions of dollars. If they put their money toward stopping this war, we'd have a lot more leadership in the Democratic Congress toward stopping this war." But MoveOn didn't stump for the Lee plan, and it died in committee.
...

Eli Pariser asked me to post his rebuttal to our pieces on their siding gainst most of the organized peace movement the current legislative debate.

I did that, below, although I don't believe they have reciprocated by posting OUR pieces on their site. Maybe I should ask them to do that!

In any case, here is my rebuttal of MoveOn's rebuttal:

Friday, March 23, 2007

ELI SAYS: "...there are dedicated antiwar activists who
oppose this bill".

Yeah, I guess! As today's excellent Salon.com article points out, MoveOn deserted almost all of the rest of the organized peace groups to stand with Pelosi. MoveOn has marginalized itself among peace activists.

ELI SAYS: "MoveOn refrained from taking a public or private position until late last week."

That's half true. The peace lobbyists I interviewed have been furious with MoveOn for weeks because privately, off the record, they were saying that they would NOT publicly call for a vote on the Lee Amendment, and that they would be siding with Pelosi. In other words, MoveOn was with the Dem leadership and deserted the 'Out of Iraq Caucus/ and the rest of the organized peace movement from the get go. MoveOn kept quiet about it all until they sprang their rigged, biased survey and then misleadingly claimed that 85% of the 3.2 million MoveOn mailing list members agreed with them.

ELI SAYS: "Here are some of the biggest inaccuracies
in his articles: The Claim: MoveOn members didn't have a fair shot at participating in the vote because, in Stauber's words, 'nothing in the subject line [of the email] indicated it was particularly important.'
The Reality: Our survey email had the subject line, "Important decision on Iraq." It's hard to be clearer than that."

My response is: congratulations Eli, that's a good rhetorical point. Your headline DID say this was important. So what does it mean that 96% of the 3.2 MILLION people on your MoveOn list IGNORED your "important" email? Well, it means that the emails you send out with "important decision" in the title are routinely ignored, not even opened. Why is that? Perhaps if your email had said, "Hey, Are You With Pelosi and Peace or Republicans and War?? That's the Only Choice in This Survey, Let Us Know Because We Are Knifing Other Peace Groups In The Back" you might have gotten a better survey response. Also, a googling of blogs or a search of Technorati shows that many of the Netroots Democrats with big blog traffic were lobbying for their readers to vote YES with PELOSI in your poll. What this all says to me is that MoveOn has so alientated your much vaunted 3.2 million email "members", that you can't get 96% of them to even open your email. But after this betrayal, they probably will pay closer attention, or just get off your list.

ELIS SAYS: "We do ongoing polling of small groups of MoveOn members to ensure we're accurately representing our membership. ... People voted this way based on the content of the bill-not the
email in which we asked the question."

My response: open your books and your PR and marketing files and let us see what you've got, but this survey was garbage in, garbage out. You got what you wanted with less than 4% of your members responding and a survey question that was rigged, like a Soviet ballot, to give you the results you desired.

ELI SAYS: "The Claim: The vote was unfair because we didn't give people a choice between the Iraq Accountability Act and the 'Lee Amendment.' The Reality: The Lee amendment is an idea that's been discussed by Congressional progressives to speed the withdrawal of American troops. We didn't include it in this survey for a fairly simple reason: it hadn't been offered. Not even in the appropriations committee. We needed to know how MoveOn members felt about the bill that was actually coming up for a vote."

The fact is that Pelosi and the leadership killed the Lee Amendment, and MoveOn among all the main peace lobby groups sat by and let it happen. This is a little like the government blowing up the union hall, and then saying there is no union hall in our town! As someone pointed out to me, in a better worded metaphor. MoveOn NEVER TOOK A PUBLIC STAND IN FAVOR OF THE LEE AMENDMENT, and stood by while Pelosi killed it.

ELI SAYS:
"A representative sample of these comments appears below. (You can go to their link at the top of this piece, click, and read the anonymous endorsement.)"

I say, I could also post scores of comments from angry MoveOn members who feel betrayed by there actions. Maybe I should.

John Stauber
PS: Should I email this to Eli and ask him to publish it, and our original articles, on the MoveOn site?

Bull excrement, MoveOn backing of Pelosi "Surge" funding of an immoral and illegal murder in Iraq stinks to the high heaven of sell out.
This is the opinion of myself who is no longer a member of this sell-out group.
Impeachment, bring the troops home (NOW), and return to a Constitutional government. Suck up to the Empire at your risk.
DeWayne Benson
rtpricetag@comcast.net