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AAPOR's Keeps 2011 Conference in Arizona

Topics: AAPOR , AAPOR2010 , AAPOR2011 , Arizona , immigration , Peter Miller

The American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) alerted its membership this afternoon that it will "continue with long-standing plans" to hold its annual conference in Phoenix Arizona in 2011.

Over the last two weeks, AAPOR's members-only email listserv has been a hotbed of debate -- more than 100 messages-- over what to do about the scheduled conference in light of Arizona's stringent new immigration law. This afternoon, AAPOR President Peter Miller sent an email to the group's membership explaining the dilemma and their decision:

Some AAPOR members have recommended that we move the conference site from Arizona because they view the new Arizona immigration law as a moral affront. Others worry that some conference attendees might be harassed under the new law. Others point out that conference attendance is likely to fall if we do not move the site in reaction to the law. Still others argue that we should hold the meeting in Arizona despite the law because our reputation as a professional body dedicated to the dispassionate, nonpartisan study of public opinion would suffer if we take a position against the measure. The fact that we will certainly suffer severe financial consequences (a charge of at least $200,000) by canceling the Phoenix contract weighs on many. And, finally, all of us, regardless of our views, are operating in an environment of uncertainty about whether the just-passed law will be in effect at the time of the meeting, or whether it will be modified, delayed or even rescinded. There is also the possibility that a similar law could be enacted wherever we move the conference.

After an "extensive discussion," Miller reports, they have opted to keep the meeting in Arizona. "We feel that our responsibility to the mission of the organization and our fiduciary responsibility to AAPOR and its members make this the best choice in a very difficult situation" (Miller's full letter is posted after the jump).

Interests disclosed: I'm an active AAPOR member and a former member of the organization's Executive Council.

Incidentally, AAPOR's 2010 conference will be held next week in Chicago. I will be on hand and will be once again post video interviews with notable presenters, with an assist this year from Pollster contributor Kristen Soltis.

Update - AAPOR also blasted out an email this afternoon to its membership a letter from 2011 Conference Chair Rob Santos. An excerpt:

I can personally attest to a deep feeling of ambivalence - I detest SB1070 and what I believe it communicates to immigrant minorities (I being the 3rd generation descendent of an undocumented Mexican immigrant). But I also know how widespread profiling is. It has been an unfortunate reality for generations in the Southwest. SB1070 is a marginal step backwards in an environment that was already in great need of attention. Putting aside the content of these views, my point is that, I - like you - have my own unique set of experiences, knowledge, and perspectives that I bring to this issue. AAPOR members share common beliefs and values, and we have our differences too. Both can be used to strengthen our association and our industry.

The full text of Peter Miller's letter:

Dear Fellow AAPORites,

I write to inform you of the Council's action on the question of changing the venue for our 2011 conference. In response to serious concerns expressed by a number of members, the Council met via teleconference on May 4 to discuss whether to continue with long-standing plans to hold our annual conference in Arizona in 2011.

While meeting, we had the following points to consider. Some AAPOR members have recommended that we move the conference site from Arizona because they view the new Arizona immigration law as a moral affront. Others worry that some conference attendees might be harassed under the new law. Others point out that conference attendance is likely to fall if we do not move the site in reaction to the law. Still others argue that we should hold the meeting in Arizona despite the law because our reputation as a professional body dedicated to the dispassionate, nonpartisan study of public opinion would suffer if we take a position against the measure. The fact that we will certainly suffer severe financial consequences (a charge of at least $200,000) by canceling the Phoenix contract weighs on many. And, finally, all of us, regardless of our views, are operating in an environment of uncertainty about whether the just-passed law will be in effect at the time of the meeting, or whether it will be modified, delayed or even rescinded. There is also the possibility that a similar law could be enacted wherever we move the conference.

After an extensive discussion of these matters that involved current and incoming members of Council, the current board voted unanimously to continue with plans to hold the 2011 conference at the Arizona Grand Hotel. We feel that our responsibility to the mission of the organization and our fiduciary responsibility to AAPOR and its members make this the best choice in a very difficult situation.

AAPOR is a professional organization whose mission is to promote public opinion research for the public good. The Arizona law, regardless of anyone's individual reactions to it, represents a major development in one of the great public issues of our time. Initial research on public views of the law indicates that there is substantial support and substantial opposition. It is the business of public opinion researchers to describe, explain and contextualize such matters. AAPOR's business is to provide a forum within which all views about how this issue should be investigated and understood can be debated. AAPOR is compromised in this mission if it sides with one viewpoint or another.

It has been argued that AAPOR is siding with a viewpoint whether we hold the meeting in Arizona or move it to another state. On this view, we express at least tacit approval for the state's policies if we meet there, just as we express disapproval if we move. For the record, we do not intend our decision to imply endorsement of the Arizona law. From our association's earliest days - during the segregation era in this country - AAPOR policy was unambiguous in the choice of conference location: "All members of AAPOR must be welcome." We will continue to abide by this principle in selecting future conference sites. Unfortunately, such choices are necessarily made with information available at the time, so there is no guarantee that a similar 'Arizona scenario' can be averted in the future.

For next year, we will do what we can to ensure that all our conference attendees are made welcome. By meeting in Arizona, we may be able to garner more attention for data and perspectives on the immigration issue than could be obtained if we meet elsewhere. Rob Santos, next year's conference chair, will add his thoughts about the meeting and also discuss his perspective on the site selection debate in a message immediately following this one. I personally have been moved by Rob's arguments. We know that this decision will be disappointing to some of you. We fervently wish that the matter had not been thrust upon us. But, the Council is trying, as always, to do what is best for AAPOR. Whatever you think of our judgment, we hope you will hold onto that thought.

With best wishes,

Peter V. Miller

 

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