If you’re a close reader of political news, the website longroom.com might very well have come to your attention in the last week. The site hosts a polling page that purports to “remove the bias in the polls,” which mostly has the effect of showing Donald Trump up in the presidential race, though most polls show Hillary Clinton leading him by solid single-digit margins. If you’ve been a bit distracted by the Olympics and don’t have a clue what LongRoom is, no harm, no foul. In fact, that’s probably for the better, because the site’s methodology is askew and its purported “staff” has all the appearance of being fictitious.
For instance, the FiveThirtyEight polls-only forecast, which consolidates hundreds of polls, shows Clinton winning the popular vote 48.9 percent to 41.5 percent. The forecast gives her an 86.3 percent chance of winning the election right now. According to the most recent check-in with LongRoom, Trump is leading Clinton by 0.6 percentage points. The site’s methodology page assures readers that “it is a mathematical certainty, that as the election approaches, all of the polls will begin to match the polls here on LongRoom.”
Good to know.
LongRoom has already engendered the ire of my colleague Harry Enten, who took the site to task earlier this week for being, essentially, a novel form of election fan fiction:
“LongRoom claims to “unbias” the polls using “actual state voter registration data from the Secretary of State or Election Division of each state.” The website contends that almost every public poll is biased in favor of Clinton. Think about what that means: The website is saying that a large number of professional pollsters who make their living trying to provide accurate information — and have a good record of doing so — are all deliberately biasing the polls and aren’t correcting for it. Like many conspiracy theories, that seems implausible.
I’d also point out that election offices from different states collect different data. Some states don’t have party registration; other states don’t collect data on a person’s race; some states collect data on neither. There are some companies that try to fill in missing data for each state, though it costs a lot to get that data. Isn’t it more plausible the people who get paid to know what they are doing are right, while some anonymous website on the internet with unclear methodology is wrong?”
The methodology of LongRoom is, in other words, not quite sound. And while fan fiction, it is a particularly elaborate work of fan fiction, making us somewhat curious about its authorship. In 2012, Dean Chambers did much the same thing, “unskewing” the polls that correctly showed Mitt Romney losing, only to admit after the election that he’d been misguided in his efforts — Chambers’s name was out in the press and to his credit, he publicly took stock of his mistakes after the fact. But LongRoom and whoever runs it has gone out of its way to obfuscate its identity. The site has an “about us” page which lists four people associated with the site, but they each seem to be without any semblance of an online paper trail, an odd thing in the age of the internet.
“Michael Ellis,” the man listed as LongRoom’s managing editor, is described in only the vaguest of terms as “an Internet Executive with over 23 years of experience, including general management of mid to large sized publications. He has been involved with internet community management his entire career.” The three other staff members have similarly indistinct bios, and rather than photographed headshots, the staff is depicted in sketches. None of the staff appears to have Twitter accounts, let alone follow the @LongRoomNews account. Searches for the staff on other social networking sites did not lead anywhere and there is no listed point of contact for any of the LongRoom staff members anywhere on the site. FiveThirtyEight reached out to the site’s only point of contact for comment — a support email address — and did not hear back. A public records search for LongRoom yielded no results for the business. (In addition to its “unbiased” polling operation, the site aggregates news stories.)
But an analysis of the site’s IP address showed that in April 2015, LongRoom switched its registration to a domain that for a fee, allows registrants to keep their names private — Domains By Proxy, LLC. The last name associated with the website, as recently as January 2015, is Fred Waid, who listed the site’s associated organization as “American Separatist” based out of New Mexico. FiveThirtyEight reached out to Waid but had not heard back as of publication.
As English majors know, it’s best not to get too bogged down by the authorship question — work must stand on its own at a certain point, which is why everyone should stop obsessing over Elena Ferrante’s true identity — but polling is a business of transparency. It’s not enough to write out your methodology; if one purports to be holding other polling organizations publicly accountable, then isn’t it only fair to be publicly accountable yourself?
If the internet in her infinite wisdom has any more information about who’s behind LongRoom, we’d love to hear more. Please send tips to the email link below.