Polling and Public Records

Charles Franklin, a UW-Madison professor and pollster is now visiting at Marquette. He’ll be conducting polls on Wisconsin politics (recall, other topics) while a visiting professor.

Embedded below is a brief interview of Franklin, conducted last week.

Watch Polling specialist assesses recall movement on PBS. See more from Here and Now.

Writing at Fighting Bob, in a post entitled “Open records open minds,” blogger-lawyer Ed Garvey wonders if Franklin’s visiting professorship at Marquette will allow Franklin to leak polling data to Team Walker. Garvey thinks that, if Franklin were at UW-Madison (or on sabbatical from UW-Madison), then his polling data would be subject to an open records request (as it would not be at private Marquette):

….if he [Franklin] is on sabbatical and is being paid by UW I would argue that his polling information is a public record. Possibly he came to the same conclusion so someone switched it from sabbatical to visiting professor. I wonder who is paying him? I don’t know, but will ask and report to you. Wisconsin voters should have all the information they can get. Time for Marquette to open the books.

Garvey’s argument is unpersuasive. There’s no evidence that Franklin will leak any data to the Walker campaign. Second, much of Franklin’s polling data will be — as is common with many polls — publicly available, anyway. Garvey’s argument really assumes that (1) Franklin would publish results without underlying data on survey size, etc., or (2) would conceal from the public some questions entirely (passing that information along to Gov. Walker’s campaign). The first would reduce the poll’s credibility, and the second would be difficult for anyone at a large university — public or private — to conceal. I’ve no reason to think Franklin is so inclined.

Even for polling from the public UW-Madison, one can guess UW-Madison would argue that the law should recognize that some social science data were exempt from the Public Records Law (Wis. Stat. 19.31-19.39). At the very least, a university would be sure to object to records-access while data collection was ongoing, and during analysis. To do otherwise would be to leave academics’ research exposed before a study concluded.

Since timeliness matters so greatly for campaign polling, public-records access to data after an election would have historical value, but would come too late to alleviate someone’s immediate (unsupported) concerns about an election advantage for Team Walker.

In any event, Franklin will only be one of several pollsters (beyond the campaigns) surveying Wisconsinites closely this year.

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