Interview: Ann Selzer stands by sampling method for primary polls

J. Ann Selzer has earned a reputation as “the best pollster in politics” through “old-school rigor” and not adjusting her data to fit guesses about the structure of the electorate. Des Moines-based Selzer & Co. is one of only five polling firms in the country currently rated A+ by FiveThirtyEight. Like many media pollsters, the firm uses a random digit dial method to find respondents for surveys about a primary or Iowa caucus. Most internal polls commissioned by campaigns draw the sample from a registered voter list, with an emphasis on past participants in either a Democratic or Republican nominating contest.

I sought comment from Selzer on her methodology because of Fred Hubbell’s and Cindy Axne’s unexpectedly large margins of victory in this year’s Iowa Democratic primary. In a telephone interview with Bleeding Heartland last week, Selzer explained why she will stick with her sampling method for future primary elections.

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3 hopes for Des Moines Register chief politics reporter Brianne Pfannenstiel

The Des Moines Register made it official this week: Brianne Pfannenstiel will move up to the chief politics reporter job after three years covering the statehouse. She is best-known for writing about alleged sexual misconduct by State Senator Nate Boulton; that article quickly ended his campaign for governor. It was a tricky story to report, and Pfannenstiel handled the material well. Another huge scoop was her June 2017 investigative report on delayed state tax refunds.

Pfannenstiel impressed me during her first year at the Register, when she had the news sense to write multiple pieces about the most under-covered major Iowa politics story of 2015. Some experienced statehouse reporters failed to recognize the significance of an unprecedented move to enact a new sales tax break without legislative approval. That policy change turned out to be far more costly than officials had projected, contributing to state revenue shortfalls in subsequent years.

I’m looking forward to watching Pfannenstiel apply her detail-oriented approach to her new beat. As she turns her attention to campaigns and elections, I hope she will:

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When someone tried to plant a false story in the Des Moines Register

A year ago today, Des Moines Register public affairs reporter William Petroski reached out to the Iowa Attorney General’s office, seeking to confirm a tip from a “really good source.”

The story never made it into the paper, because it didn’t check out. Odds are the misinformation came from someone close to then Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds.

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Big changes, worrying signs at Des Moines Register

High-profile departures from the Des Moines Register newsroom have happened too often over the last decade. A series of layoffs and buyouts left readers less informed about important topics. For instance, ever since the Register let its last Washington-based correspondent go, readers rarely hear about what our state’s members of Congress are doing, unless the story originated from a press release or comments during a conference call with journalists.

The recent turnover at Iowa’s most important agenda-setting news organization is worrying for heavy consumers of political coverage.

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Doug Gross used Des Moines Register to lobby for his law firm's client

Longtime Republican power-broker Doug Gross published two Des Moines Register guest columns within a three-month period criticizing a planned Polk County program to assess the risk of releasing defendants before trial. The BrownWinick partner did not disclose to the newspaper’s editors that his law firm’s lobbying team represents Lederman Bail Bonds, a company that would be adversely affected if fewer low-risk offenders are required to post a cash bond to get out of jail.

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