“Independent Pollster” Scott Rasmussen Headlines Republican Fundraisers

On his website and during interviews, Scott Rasmussen portrays himself as an “independent pollster” who doesn't have a stake in the fortunes of either political party. Yet Rasmussen, who has been criticized for producing polling that favors conservatives, recently headlined two Republican fundraisers.

On February 11, Rasmussen was the keynote speaker at the Twin Falls Lincoln Day Celebration, which benefited the Republican Party of Twin Falls County, Idaho. Ticket packages for the dinner ran from $75 for general seating to $2,5000 for an eight person “platinum table.” Republicans could also attend a $250 “Private VIP Reception” with Rasmussen; buy an autographed copy of Rasmussen's book ($25); and take a picture with Rasmussen ($25).

Event chairwoman Mya Goodman told Media Matters in an email that the party paid Rasmussen a fee of $15,000 plus travel to speak and the party chose Rasmussen “because we felt that his topic would be interesting and relevant to the current election cycle.”

The following week, Rasmussen headlined a February 18 Lincoln Day fundraiser for the Manatee County Republican Party of Florida. Tickets for the event were reportedly $100. An email to the party was not returned. Local party chairwoman Kathleen King said in a December press release: “Rasmussen is a reliable and driving force in American Politics. Party activists are excited to hear what Rasmussen has to say when all eyes are watching the evolving contest for the Republican presidential nominee and the future make-up of the U.S. House and Senate.”

A Rasmussen Reports spokesperson responded in an email to questions about whether Rasmussen's Republican fundraising clouds his claims to be an “independent pollster”:

All of Mr. Rasmussen's speaking engagements are booked through Premiere Speakers Bureau. He speaks to a wide variety of organizations and offers his assessment of public opinion on the issues of the day. Most of his speeches are not to political organizations, but to other groups interested in understanding public opinion trends. However, he has been hired to speak by groups from across the political spectrum and often tells them things they don't want to hear.

Mr. Rasmussen has outlined his views of public opinion on many leading issues of the day in his new book, The People's Money. The book includes proposals and analysis that will offend every member of Congress, Republican and Democrat alike. It also assigns blame for the current fiscal crisis on a bi-partisan basis.

When asked for examples of Democratic groups (or an equivalent) that Rasmussen has fundraised for, or spoken to, the spokesperson replied that “Scott's speeches are scheduled through Premiere Speakers Bureau and not Rasmussen Reports. When he is brought in for an event, the purpose of the meeting is up to the host. Scott is merely hired to speak.” Requests for comment to Premiere Speakers Bureau were not returned.

Rasmussen's biography and website repeatedly describe him as an “independent pollster.” Media profiles also suggest that Rasmussen denies favoring a political side. Politico wrote in January 2010 that Rasmussen “contends that he has no ax to grind.” Conservative writer John Fund wrote in August 2010 that Rasmussen denies a bias toward Republicans and "[a]s for his own politics, he is coy other than admitting he has a healthy suspicion of the political class he devotes so much time to studying. 'If I root for anyone to win, it's for our polls,' he laughs."

During the 2004 elections, the Republican National Committee and Bush re-election campaign reportedly disbursed nearly $150,000 to Rasmussen Reports for survey research information. The Washington Post wrote that “in 2004 the Bush reelection campaign used a feature on his site that allowed customers to program their own polls. Rasmussen asserted that he never wrote any of the questions or assisted Republicans in any way, but by the 2008 presidential election his conservative bent was a kind of brand for him.”

Nate Silver, a statistician and author of The New York Times' FiveThirtyEight blog, told Media Matters that pollsters with partisan leanings can and do produce unbiased polls, but Rasmussen's polls have shown they “have a Republican bias.”

“I don't care what he does in his spare time,” Silver wrote. “There are plenty of people with partisan leanings that produce fairly unbiased polls, e.g. Public Opinion Strategies on the right or Public Policy Polling on the left.”

Silver added of Rasmussen Reports: “It's easy to demonstrate statistically that their polls have a Republican bias. I mean 'bias' in the way statisticians use the term, meaning that they consistently miss in one direction. ... I don't think people should pay very much attention to Rasmussen polls unless they are prepared to make a mental adjustment for this bias (i.e. add a few points to the Democratic candidate). I also haven't really seen any evidence yet that Rasmussen is interested in correcting it. At best, they seem to be competing on the basis of quantity rather than quality.”

After the 2010 elections, Silver documented that Rasmussen “badly missed the margin in many states, and also exhibited a considerable bias toward Republican candidates.” In one case, Rasmussen missed the final margin between candidates in Hawaii's Senate race “by 40 points, the largest error ever recorded in a general election in FiveThirtyEight's database, which includes all polls conducted since 1998.”

Separately, Rasmussen Reports has been criticized for often favoring conservative narratives in polling questions and analyses (examples during the 2009-2010 cycle can be found here). Democratic pollster Mark Mellman told Politico in 2010: “I think they write their questions in a way that supports a conservative interpretation of the world ... In general, they tend to be among the worst polls for Democrats, and they phrase questions in ways that elicit less support for the Democratic point of view.”

A June 2010 Washington Post article quoted “John Zogby, the pollster whose publicity-seeking business model is considered a forebear of Rasmussen's,” stating: "[Rasmussen] has got a conservative constituency, he has Fox News and the Washington Times and Drudge. ... The conservative result is the one that is going to get a huge level of coverage."

Rasmussen, as indicated by his multimedia page, is a frequent guest on Fox News. He is scheduled to once again speak on a cruise to benefit conservative National Review following the November elections.