Friday, April 09, 2010

Did Saqib Ali Rig the Gazette Poll?

In the Gazette’s recent poll on influential state legislators, Delegate Saqib Ali (D-39) showed up on both the most influential Delegates list and the least influential Delegates list.

Now how did that happen?

Last month, we revealed how the Gazette was developing its lists. The newspaper emailed out a link to a Survey Monkey form in which every respondent was required to fully complete four lists: the ten most influential Senators, the ten least influential Senators, the twenty most influential Delegates, and the twenty least influential Delegates. Here is what the survey form looked like.

Respondents were not permitted to fill out partial lists and were given the option to make comments for each legislator. We obtained the email and posted it on our blog, as well as the link to Survey Monkey. The key to understanding the survey is that the Gazette had no control over who filled it out and had no idea who was completing it. That’s akin to how we run our Wild-West-style reader polls, which are frequently stuffed, but does not resemble at all how we run our MoCo Most Influential surveys. On the latter surveys, we ask our well-connected spy network for input and never accept anonymous responses. We know exactly who is responding and what they say, thereby assuring some minimal level of quality control. Such is not the case with the Gazette’s poll, as we shall see.

Here are the Gazette’s responses for Saqib Ali.

Ali was ranked as the 17th-most influential Delegate because four voters ranked him number one and another voter ranked him seventh. The Gazette claims its respondents were “a select group of State House observers” without, of course, having any idea who they were. Trust us on this point, folks – there is not a single informed person in or near Annapolis who considers Ali to be more influential than Speaker Mike Busch. No legislator other than Busch and Ali received any number one votes aside from House Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell, who received one. Yet four voters who ranked Ali as number one infiltrated the Gazette poll and put him on the newspaper’s most influential list. Even worse, since the survey required every respondent to complete every list, these voters contaminated all the other lists as well. We warned the Gazette this might happen and they proceeded down this path anyway. Ali’s simultaneous rank as the second-least influential Delegate reflects the fact that many in Annapolis resent him for his press-hogging and grandstanding ways.

So where did the pro-Ali votes come from? We will never know, and neither will the Gazette. Ali is a legendary ballot-stuffer of online polls of all kinds. MPW polls concerning Ali are some of the very few blog posts here that attract significant traffic from Pakistan. So the Gazette’s votes could have come from Ali’s fervent followers or perhaps from one tech-savvy individual who knows how to operate from multiple IP addresses. Could it have been Ali himself? It’s possible, although we believe that if Ali was truly determined to rig this, he could have arranged for far more than five votes to come in.

In any case, this incident will encourage more rigging of the next Gazette poll. They need to tighten up their methodology or their next round of most influential lists will be topped by Don Dwyer, Alex Mooney and any other legislator with a couple hundred Facebook fans and a need for free publicity.