Articles and Analysis


Dispatches: Penn's Rejoinder to Greenberg

Topics: Dispatches from the War Room , Mark Penn , Pollsters , Stan Greenberg

Mark Penn has emailed a second response to Greenberg, which I have reproduced in full below.

One aspect of this back-and-forth is still not quite resolved. In his book, Greenberg writes that "Penn's firm provided none of the information normally delivered by a professional research organization." In his rejoinder posted earlier today, Greenberg expands on that claim:

Pollsters as a rule share the results for all their questions and hypotheses, even the ones that didn't pan out. In the Blair campaign, Penn provided a memo with large tables including only the questions he wanted to report; he did not provide a standard book of demographic cross-tabulations. Read Penn's words carefully, "The campaign received all of the agendas, marginals, as requested without reservation." In short, he provided breakouts only when asked, in effect keeping his own client and campaign team "out of the loop."

Penn's latest response does not directly answer Greenberg's charge:

The questions in the polls went through a team vetting process and it was up to Labour not me to determine what Stan got and what Stan did not get. I have plenty of letters of transmittal of questionnaires, marginals and crosstabs to the party - they chose what Stan did and did not get - and there were very sensitive questions for small group use only that they decided not to give him.

So Penn's firm transmitted "plenty" of questionnaires, marginals and crosstabs, but when and how often? If these documents were only shared on request, and then only after strategy meetings or conference calls in which Penn presented results (as was reportedly the case in Hillary Clinton's campaign), then Greenberg has a point. The standard procedure of every pollster I've worked with is to share these documents with the campaign as soon as they are ready -- by email or (in the good old days) by fax -- so that campaign decision makers can examine the data and be in a position to question the pollster's strategic recommendations. Perhaps this is a question that Phillip Gould can help resolve.

Penn's latest response follows after the jump.

Received via email from Mark Penn:

I read Stan's response in which he concedes he was not at the table with prime minister blair and the team in the 2005 election - and that Philip Gould - who was also Stan's business partner for a while and a trained researcher -- does not agree with his characterizations.

I have never attacked Stan in any way after I followed him or he followed me in many campaigns. It is this book and his willingness to release information without permission from the Labour Party (obviously now a former client) that is unprofessional. The questions in the polls went through a team vetting process and it was up to Labour not me to determine what Stan got and what Stan did not get. I have plenty of letters of transmittal of questionnaires, marginals and crosstabs to the party - they chose what Stan did and did not get - and there were very sensitive questions for small group use only that they decided not to give him.

Prime Minister Blair, who saw it all, wrote as follows in an unsolicited public letter to me and my associate Scott Siff:

Dear Mark,

Now it's all over, I can't thank you enough for the work you did. Every step of the way, you gave solid, sensible advice, with real insight and creativity. As you know, I came to rely on it heavily! You and Scott were great to work with - true professionals, but true believers too.

Thank you!

Yours ever, Tony

May 10th, 2005

Here is a point by point review of his points:

"When I first learned in December of Penn's involvement and in January of our dividing the polling, I was convinced that Gould had played just such a role and I wrote about it. I was wrong. Philip was hurt by the accusation that he had concealed Penn's involvement and wrote me with detailed diary entrees that show he only learned of it in September and resisted Penn's involvement until the end of the year, when he decided to "make the best of it.""

This is what Stan says Philip told him - but the facts remain as I set them out. Philip was aware of our work from the outset. Stan wasn't - for obvious reasons.

"I respect Blair for rejecting my advice and deciding to go with Penn who did not push him to address the Iraq question and who offered a way to make electoral gains. The mistake was not firing me and leaving both of us in the campaign."

Stan wasn't in the room so wouldn't know how the team debated the right campaign response on Iraq. I don't think it is appropriate to tell tales from the war room but it is completely incorrect to say that I did not push Blair to address the Iraq question. Iraq was a constant point of discussion for the campaign and our polls. The question was what was the right response.

"Penn describes the 2005 third-term as "historic" but in the campaign everyone was disappointed with the result, what the media called Labour's "drastically reduced majority," produced by a disengaged electorate and historically low turnout. Many factors contributed to the result, but among them were Penn's research, not to mention having two polling teams with different theories on how to win."

Firstly on the facts Stan is getting himself confused. In 2001, when he was the pollster, the campaign produced the lowest turnout in modern British elections - 59%. 2005 saw a modest increase in turnout to 61%.

The campaign result was indeed historic. Labour had never won a third term before - ever. Put that alongside the unpopularity of the war in Iraq or that in the European elections in the year before the 2005 poll, Labour got 22% its lowest share of vote for almost a century and that makes it an even more impressive outcome. This isn't to say the campaign was perfect - which campaign is? - or that there weren't internal issues within the Party that impacted directly on its public standing. I'm not claiming the campaign was flawless but for Stan to try and reduce Labour's victory to nothing simply because he wasn't the pollster advising Blair reflects more sour grapes than reality.


trulee pist:

Is it the practice in your country for a pollster (or the CEO of a PR firm) to engage in extended public squabbles about who said what to whom in strategy meetings with the client? Seems like that would be a security risk.



What a hoot! Mark Penn fabricating poll results? Hiding data? Taking all the credit? Gambling at Rick's Cafe? I am shocked.

The funniest thing is that years later, including in his reply to Greenberg, Penn takes credit for the "Forward, not back" theme for the Blair campaign with an abolutely straight face.

As reported in The Independent, and many other places, that line was essentially lifted from an episode of The Simpsons:

"Thursday, 28 February 2008
Blair, Hillary, and Kang from the Simpsons
By John Rentoul

"More trouble for Hillary Clinton's campaign. Her consultant, Mark Penn, boasts that he worked for Labour in the 2005 election. Well, that was a win. But of what single contribution is he most proud?

"'I have won about 70 major elections around the world, including many presidents, and I devised the simple message for Tony Blair in his last successful campaign: "Forward, Not Back'".

"And there was I thinking it was the work of supreme post-ironist such as Peter Mandelson. Not only is it one of the worst slogans ever devised, though, it is not even original.

"Christopher Orr, an American blogger, points out that it was used by Kang, the extraterrestrial, in his 1996 run for the US presidency on "The Simpsons":

"'We must move forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom.'"

Her's the link to the article, which can link you to the epsode:


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