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An Interview with John Ziegler on the Zogby “Push Poll”

I had the chance this afternoon to speak with John Ziegler, a documentary filmmaker and former radio talk show host who built the website and is promoting a forthcoming documentary of the same name.

Ziegler was responsible for commissioning a Zogby International survey of Barack Obama supporters, which took the form of a multiple choice political knowledge test, stating a “fact” to the respondent and asking them which of the four major candidates (Obama, McCain, Biden, Palin) the statement applied to. Because I believe that many of the statements on the survey are questionable or false but are misleadingly presented as factual to the respondent, I characterized the survey as a “push poll” in an article posted early this morning.

Ziegler had contacted me by e-mail, asking if I’d like to interview him; the interview itself was conducted by telephone. Ziegler asked, among other conditions, that I post a full transcript of the interview, which I have. The transcript below is intended to be representative as possible from my shorthand transcript, with the exception of two or three rapid-fire ad-hominem exchanges being edited out. The transcript, however, is not safe for work.

Nate Silver [NS]: Were only Obama supporters interviewed for the [Zogby] survey, or was everyone interviewed?
John Ziegler [JZ]: The reason why I interviewed Obama supporters only is because I’m doing a documentary on the media coverage of the campaign and how the media coverage of the campaign impacted what Obama supporters knew or thought they knew about the campaign. I had planned from day one because I knew that no one would take seriously any random sampling of interviewees that I was going to commission a scientific poll of these questions. I also knew that it would be a lot cheaper for me to do a nationwide survey of Obama voters than the nation as a whole because basically I’d only have to do half the number of people to get a representative sample. When I went on FOX last night, I made a deal that if anyone on the left — you’re more than willing to take me up on this — wants to ask the exact same deal of the McCain supporters and you get examples that are equal to or worse than the Obama supporters, then I’ll pay for your expense. The point here was not to show that Obama supporters were idiots — there are plenty of idiots on both sides of the aisle — but what information they got from the media that they were able to consume.

NS: Do you stand by all the statements in the survey as being unambiguously true?
JZ: I stand one hundred percent by the notion that there is absolutely zero ambiguity as to what the right answer is to any of the questions. With the one exception of the Palin-Russia-Alaska question which we asked the way we did for a very specific purpose which was to try and gauge the Tina Fey Effect which I think we did in a very effective manner which was what was actually said by Tina Fey, everyone attributed to Sarah Plain. But for purposes of scoring Obama supporters’ answers we counted Palin as a correct response.

NS: What was the right answer to that [Palin] question?
JZ: The technically accurate question [sic] is that none of the four people said that, but we counted it as correct if they said Sarah Palin.

NS: Why would you commission a survey question with no correct response?
JZ: The purpose of the question, you pinhead, was we wanted to determine the Tina Fey Effect.

NS: Were the interviews conducted by telephone or online?
JZ: How can you ask a question like that and pretend that you have any clue what you’re writing about! That’s unbelievable that someone could write what you did! That is unbelievable that you wouldn’t know that it’s a telephone or an online poll and that you went on my summaries of the questions before the questions were even released!

NS: We’ve heard reports from our readers that very similar questions had been asked in an online format. There was no online component at all?
JZ: That is correct, which you would have known if you had looked at the information. Before you called this a push poll — you don’t seem to know the definition of a push poll. How do you have this website?

NS: Is the complete interview available anywhere — complete results for the interview?
JZ: Yeah if you had done your research it is all online, every question, all the cross-tabs. Man, you’re never going to post this [transcript], are you?

NS: Were the respondents informed of the ‘correct’ response during the telephone interviews?
JZ: No.

NS: Did Zogby have a chance to preview the questions before agreeing to accept your business?
JZ: John Zogby himself or the company?

NS: Either/Or.
JZ: I am quite certain that if I asked a question they deemed inappropriate they would have not allowed the question to be asked.

NS: What questions were removed from the survey?
JZ: We didn’t remove any, we edited some.

NS: What questions were edited?
JZ: Nothing was substantially edited but there was some wording on some that we went over with them. For instance, I think I had inadvertently said “See Russia from my home” instead of “See Russia from my house”. There was a distinction about Obama talking about energy prices versus electricity prices so we corrected that. That’s all that I can recollect.

NS: What did Zogby charge you — what did you pay for this survey?
JZ: I’m not going to tell you that, I’m not a fucking idiot.

NS: Did he charge you at his usual rates or did he ask you for extra?
JZ: You’ll have to ask them. I’m not going to respond how much money I paid for this. It was substantial but I’m not going to say anything more than that.

NS: In the Youtube video, how were the Obama supporters identified for the Youtube video?
JZ: I had nothing to do with it. I had a person who was working with me who happens to be a black female since you seem to think I’m a racist who was the one that chose all of the respondents based on conversations we’d had prior, people who were well-spoken, thought they were informed, willing to come on camera and [who] voted for Barack Obama.

NS: What was the location of the polling place where the interviews were conducted?
JZ: They were both in Los Angeles.

NS: Okay, that’s what I kind of guessed. How many Obama supporters did you speak with in total?
JZ: All twelve we spoke with are in the video.

NS: Was there any significance to the fact that in the YouTube video, seven of the twelve Obama supporters were black?
JZ: [Laughs]. The reason why we had more black supporters – that might surprise some of the people that we spoke to — if we go by your apparent ability to determine race — the first location happened to be in a black section of town and we were able to get our interviews faster there because of they way that was set up, because of the logistics. We had a second location but it got dark and we didn’t have any lights. So, that’s it, it was no grand racial conspiracy.

NS: How did you represent yourself to John Zogby?
JZ: As private company, Death-of-Free-Speech-dot-inc which is the name of a book that I wrote.

NS: Did Zogby give you sign-off on the press release that he released on his website?
JZ: I’m not sure what you mean by sign-off. The press release I had input into, yes.

NS: Did you have financing for the project or was it paid for out of pocket?
JZ: It is not self-financed.

NS: Who paid for it?
JZ: You think I’m going to tell you that? When you’ve already shown yourself to be the enemy?

NS: Was it paid for by the RNC?
JZ: [Laughs]. In your world, the question that I would ask you is what question [in the survey] is there any ambiguity as to what the answer is?

NS: Well, that Obama ‘launched his career’ at the home of two former members of the Weather Underground —
JZ: That happens to be one of the questions that Obama supporters did the best on! They did better on that question than on any other Obama-related answers! And here you’re telling me that it’s not true?

NS: What do you mean by “launched his career”?
JZ: The first campaign as told by the person whose position he took in the State Senate, as told by her admission, his first campaign event was in the home of Bill Ayers and his wife. [Laughs] Unless you live in the Obama kool-aid world! That is astonishing to me that you would not accept that! And by the way, when you’re given four responses to that question, what else was the response going to be? Sarah Palin?

NS: Well, her husband was a member of a secessionist party.
JZ: You are such a hack! That’s a very good analogy.

NS: Do you think that certain types of voters are less well informed?
JZ: I think anyone that looks rationally at these poll results would have to conclude that Obama voters are incredibly poorly informed about major issues that occurred during the campaign — my guess is because McCain voters got their information from different types of media than Obama voters did.

NS: What types of media would you consider credible?
JZ: I think you need a variety of sources, but I do not accept the notion that if it’s not in the New York Times it’s not true and if it is in the New York Times it is. Just because Sean Hannity says something doesn’t mean it’s not true.

NS: What is Barack Obama’s religion?
JZ: You’ll have to ask him. But I do know that he never claimed to be a Christian until he met Reverend Wright. And I do believe — and I’ve never held this against him — that it would have been highly unlikely for him not to have been registered as a Muslim as a child in Indonsesia but who cares. He did change his website based on that reality –- he was far more ambiguous about that issue on Fight The Smears. I’m an agnostic so I couldn’t care less what his religion is. I just care that he lied about it.

NS: When do you think Obama was a Muslim?
JZ: I think he was likely — registered as a Muslim between the ages of 6 and 10 while he was going to school in Indonesia. It would have been highly unusual for him not to be.

NS: But would you personally consider Obama a Muslim?
JZ: No, because he was a child. We’re talking about two totally different things. There’s what religion you’re born into and there’s what religion you become because of your own decisions

NS: Would you consider Obama a Christian?
JZ: You’d have to ask him. There was never any evidence that he was a Christian until he decided to join the church of a racist hate-monger for political purposes.

NS: Would you not believe Barack Obama if he told you he was a Christian?
JZ: Does he believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God who died and was raised from the dead later?

NS: Do you think he’s a believer in Jesus Christ?
JZ: I have no way of knowing that. I don’t think there’s any evidence that he is, either.

NS: Do you have doubts about Barack Obama’s birth certificate?
JZ: I couldn’t care less about that. I accept he was born in Hawaii.

NS: Would you consider yourself well-informed
JZ: I’d consider myself extremely well-informed.

NS: Who are the two senators from South Dakota
JZ: Thune and, uh, Johnson.

NS: Very good. South Carolina?
JZ: Go fuck yourself. I’m done with this interview if you’re going to ask me stupid questions like that. Obviously I know who Lindsay Graham is.

NS: Well, since you’re running a website calling people misinformed, I’d like to see if — there are certain things you’ve said that I would consider misinformed.
JZ: Misinformed? You’re a piece of work! You are never going to have the guts to post a representative transcript on your website! I thought you actually ran a legitimate website!

NS: Thank you, have a good day.
JZ: Go fuck yourself.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.


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