Tangle is an independent, ad-free, non-partisan politics newsletter where I answer reader questions from across the country. If you found Tangle online, you can subscribe below.
Today’s read: 8 minutes.
Calls to release the whistleblower’s identity ramp up. Plus, a question about whether people lie on polls.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Ask me anything.
(About politics). Tangle thrives on reader questions — it’s the lifeblood of the newsletter. My goal is to help you understand what’s happening and make sure you don’t have to waste time wading through the news to find information you want. Submit a question by simply replying to this email or tweeting at me @Ike_Saul
A “wow” video.
This morning, conservative reporter James O’Keefe released a video of ABC News anchor Amy Robach saying she had all the goods on Jeffrey Epstein three years ago but the network wouldn’t let her run with the story. O’Keefe is known for deceptively editing videos that typically make conservatives look good and liberals look bad, but this cut has no jump edits and the veracity of the video has been acknowledged by ABC and Robach. It is stunning.
What D.C. is talking about.
The whistleblower’s identity. Last night, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul joined President Trump on stage during a rally in his home state and called for the media to unmask the whistleblower. “I say tonight to the media, ‘Do your job and print his name,’” Sen. Paul said. His remarks came just hours after the president said on Twitter that it’d be “unacceptable” for the whistleblower to simply provide written answers, and instead insisted he must come forward to testify. While some details of the whistleblower are known, and some conservative news organizations have printed their alleged name, the identity has still not been confirmed. Since the whistleblower filed a formal complaint, alleging President Trump leveraged foreign policy aid to get Ukraine’s president to investigate Joe Biden, nearly a dozen witnesses have testified in an impeachment inquiry about the president’s actions.
What Republicans are saying.
Show us the goods. Sen. Rand Paul said “we also now know the name of the whistleblower” and claims he was working for Joe Biden at the same time Hunter Biden was getting money from the Ukrainian gas company Burisma. Sean Hannity says he has “multiple sources” confirming the whistleblower’s identity but will “keep playing the game” for now because the whistleblower’s attorneys have threatened to sue him if he makes it public. Some conservative reporters have shared a video of the alleged whisteblower’’s house. Others have noted that the media has gone after anonymous trolls online who post degrading memes about CNN, or showed up on the doorsteps of elderly women who started pro-Trump Facebook groups, but now refuse to publish the name of an “anti-Trump leaker” who set of an impeachment inquiry. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who has largely been an ally of Trump’s, is a major advocate of whistleblower protections and has said it’s up to the whistleblower whether to come forward or not. Grassley is the second-highest-ranking official in the Senate, so his opinion weighs heavily. Some never-Trump Republicans or more constitutional conservatives continue to support the whistleblower’s anonymity.
What Democrats are saying.
Dangerous. Stupid. Disgusting. Exposing the whistleblower wouldn’t just put his life in danger, it’d set a precedent that whistleblowers shouldn’t expect anonymity going forward. The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 makes it illegal to retaliate against anyone who reports violations or misconduct, so long as that person follows the proper procedures. So far, Democrats are making a strong case that the whistleblower followed protocol, and sharing his or her identity would expose them to obvious danger and retaliation. Others are making an even more basic claim: the whistleblower’s complaint has become almost innocuous compared to the on-the-record testimony we’ve gotten since the inquiry launched. There’s no reason to bring them forward and risk their own safety, given that several officials have gone on the record to confirm the content of the complaint now anyway.
The question of how to treat the whistleblower is more of a journalism question than a legal question. By the law, the rules are pretty clear: the whistleblower should be afforded protection against retaliation. The Whistleblower Protection Act is a broad statute, but I’ll take the word of conservative Senators like Chuck Grassley who helped write the bill and say it protects the whistleblower’s identity.
I won’t publish that person’s name here, though you could find it yourself with a little internet sleuthing. I won’t publish it because I don’t know if that person is really the whistleblower. I also believe that the whistleblower is entitled to anonymity. My biggest gripe with the people calling for the whistleblower’s identity to be revealed is that so many of them are small-government conservatives. Alleged libertarians. People who claim to loathe bureaucracy, government overreach, etc. Whistleblower protections are built into today’s laws precisely to protect people against government corruption. They’re there so diplomats, intelligence officers, members of a cabinet, anyone who witnesses misconduct can report it within a framework that doesn’t endanger them. If we expose the whistleblower and positively identify them, every whistleblower going forward will have to fear that retaliation. My hope is that after President Trump’s time in office is complete, we remember this argument as a country. It wasn’t so long ago that President Obama was waging war against whistleblowers and prosecuting them for leaking. With any luck, the Democrats fighting to protect whistleblowers now will continue to protect them the next time a Democrat is in office.
Your questions, answered.
Reminder: You can submit a question by replying to this email or tweeting at me.
Q: I see a lot of news articles comparing the polling of Democratic candidates against Trump. For example, this one talks about how Trump leads Biden and Warren, but not Sanders, in Iowa. My question is this: How reliable do you think these types of polls are? Suppose Sanders is my ideal candidate, but I know I will vote for any Democrat over Trump. I might respond to a poll saying that I would choose Sanders over Trump, but would choose Trump over Biden or Warren, just so that Sanders seems more favorable in the primary. While this type of thinking might be in the minority, and while in theory each candidate could have a similar proportion of such supporters, it does not seem far-fetched to me that the influence of such respondents could significantly influence these types of pre-primary polls about who people would vote for in the general (especially given the cascading and symbiotic effects between polling and fundraising).
- Kevin, Philadelphia, PA.
Tangle: The question of whether people lie to pollsters — or misrepresent their actual views — is one that has existed for as long as polling has been around. The short and simple answer to your question is yes, those polls are pretty accurate, and no, people usually don’t lie on polls. One of the exceptions to that assumption is what’s known as the “Bradley Effect,” which proposes that voters who intend to vote for a white candidate against a non-white candidate would lie to pollsters to protect their social image. It was named after Tom Bradley, a black Mayor in California who lost an election after being well-ahead in the polls in the early 1980s.
More recent analysis related to this question has popped up since 2016, too. Nathaniel Stinnett, once called “The Voting Guru” by Grist Magazine and a “visionary” by The New York Times for his political consulting, wrote recently about the kinds of things voters lie to pollsters about. Typically, those lies pop up when they’re asked about their recent voting history. Stinnett says he surveyed 8,567 registered voters, asked them about their voting history, then compared their recollection to real public voting history. He found that 78.1 percent of voters over-reported their actual voting histories.
Then there was all the polling stuff around Trump. Morning Consult reporter Cameron Easley said Trump voters were more likely to identify themselves as Trump supporters in online polls than phone or in-person polls. Those results, like voters inflating the frequency with which they actually vote or hiding their support for white candidates, were tied to “social desirability bias,” which is a lot like the Bradley Effect. It essentially means voters can try to present themselves the way they want the country to see them. There was also a small movement on social media encouraging Trump supporters to not take phone polls or respond to pollsters since they believed the “media” was trying to suppress Trump support with negative polls. All of these are examples of voters manipulating polling by being dishonest, but even the best pollsters doubt whether Trump voters were intentionally lying to polling outfits.
Of course, polls also adjust for these kinds of things. And more than anything else, polls can show skewed results not because of lies voters tell, but because of who pollsters actually poll. One of the big mistakes pollsters made in 2016 was they underrepresented the amount of the electorate that was uneducated college voters. That’s why Trump’s support in important swing states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania was underestimated in the polls — there were a lot of non-college educated voters there who weren’t sampled enough in polls. Top pollsters have adjusted to make up for that discrepancy in 2016.
To speak specifically to the example you laid out, of a primary voter claiming bias against another candidate to inflate their candidate’s appearance of electability, I’ve never heard of anything like that. I couldn’t find any research about that, either. But the math of it makes it very unlikely such voters would ever influence a poll. Say there were a mass movement of Bernie supporters who wanted to influence how the primary polls looked. They got 100,000 Bernie supporters to pledge that they would tell any pollster who called them they’d support Bernie vs. Trump but not Warren vs. Trump, hoping to inflate Sanders’ electability appearance for the primary. Even in a scenario like that, most national polls are conducted amongst anywhere from 800-2,000 voters. Assuming a poll is at the high end and has spoken to 1,500 people, the odds of them sweeping up one of those committed Sanders supporters is small. Assuming all things equal, there are 200 million adults in the U.S., so if 100,000 of them had committed to lie like that on a poll, there’s about a one in 2,000 chance one of them gets asked a question in any given poll. The odds would obviously improve when you narrow it down to registered voters or polls going specifically after registered Democrats, but you get the idea: the odds are small. And even if they did poll one or even two of those people, you’re still working within the margin of error.
To reiterate a note from yesterday: pollsters don’t always get things right. They missed some stuff in 2016, and imbalances in who they are sampling can hamstring results. But, generally speaking, well-regarded polls are usually accurate. As Nate Silver said in FiveThirtyEight, “The media narrative that polling accuracy has taken a nosedive is mostly bullshit.” You can read more about that here.
A story that matters.
With two major announcements yesterday, the Trump administration is rewriting America’s environmental rules. First, the EPA proposed backing off rules about where coal plants can store waste. The plants have traditionally just left that waste in giant pits, which eventually seeps into the ground and then our water. That can lead to contaminated groundwater. Now, the Trump admin is giving those plants an extension on how long they have until they need to comply with new restrictions about storing the waste. Environmental groups are saying they plan to sue, as the new regulations put people in serious danger. Click.
Then, the Trump administration announced it was formally withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, which hundreds of countries signed in a global effort to curb climate change. The U.S. is the first country to leave. Our withdrawal will be completed this time next year. Trump has railed against the deal because it stipulates that larger countries like the U.S. financially support smaller countries to ease the burden of changing their energy sources. He’s also been a proponent of cutting back environmental regulations laid out by President Obama. Now, America’s position in the global fight to reduce emissions is in serious question. Click.
40%. That’s how much work productivity jumped during a Microsoft Japan program where it closed its offices on Fridays.
6%. The percentage of voters who support Joe Biden against Donald Trump but not Elizabeth Warren, according to a New York Times poll.
41%. The percentage of voters who support Joe Biden but not Sen. Warren and also say they agree with the statement that most of the women who run for president “just aren’t that likable.”
57%. The amount of political ad spending on digital, according to Advertising Analytics.
34%. The amount of political ad spending on broadcast TV, according to Advertising Analytics.
46%. The percentage of registered voters who said they are “certain” to vote against Trump in 2020, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.
34%. The percentage of registered voters who say they are certain to vote for Trump.
17%. The percentage of registered voters who say it depends on the Dem nominee.
Have a nice day.
Last year, during a polar vortex in Chicago, Candice Payne decided to rent some hotel rooms for the homeless. The experience gave her a “good deed” bug and she’s been running with it ever since. After receiving a $50,000 gift from WalMart, which she donated to her own nonprofit, the 34-year-old businesswoman says she has found her calling to help the homeless. You can read more about her organization and her path towards this new life in the Chicago Sun Times here.