Mark Blumenthal | January 12, 2007
Democratic pollster Douglas Schoen has a column today on RealClearPolitics that presents data collected by his firm, along with the Republican firm the Tarrance Group, about the proposal to have the government negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. The Democratic bill to require such negotiation comes to a vote today. Schoen argues that the idea "appears to enjoy a great deal of public support," but once he presents negative information about the plan on his survey, "voters become very skeptical of the idea and the implications for public health."
Before getting to the substance, skeptical readers might ask, who paid for this survey? As of this writing, the RealClearPolitics column provided no information about the sponsor of the survey. Neither did the memo and presentation linked to by Schoen's column. Those omissions are significant, since the first principle of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls (NCPP) is "sponsorship of the survey."
Of course, given the timing and the players, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that pharmaceutical interests probably picked up the tab. As the front-page story in today's Washington Post points out, the pharmaceutical interests have been "hiring top Democratic lobbyists...bolstering Democratic political donations and spending millions on public relations campaigns." It adds:
This month alone, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America spent more than $1 million on full-page newspaper ads touting the success of the existing Medicare drug system.
More to the point:
- The web site of Schoen's firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland lists five pharmaceutical companies - Bristol Myers Squibb, Glaxo, Eli Lilly, Smithkline Beecham, Novartis - as clients.
- Schoen's column cites earlier data from a previous survey conducted on November 7, 2006. Some of the same data also appears in a PRNewsire release that supports the pharmaceutical side of the argument over Medicare Part D. That press release provides contact information for a spokesman at the public relations firm Qorvis Communications. Qorvis also sponsored a conference call briefing on November 8 by both Schoen and Ed Goeas of Tarrance (I received an email invitation but did not participate).
- Last September, according to the Holmes Report, the The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) selected Qorvis "to assist with its nationwide strategic public relations efforts."
I emailed John McIntyre at RealClearPolitics earlier today for comment. "If the survey was paid for by Pharma," he replied, "I do agree that is something that should be disclosed." He promised to contact Doug Schoen to ask about sponsorship.
I also contacted Qorvis Communications and as of yet have not received a reply. [UPDATE - 1:17 p.m.: Qorvis replies and confirms that PhRMA paid for the survey].
Back to the substance. The sort of survey that Schoen conducted is not unusual. You can be sure that partisans on the other side of the argument are also conducting similar "message testing" polls, although I assume that both sides have conducted research they are not releasing that tests the way Americans react to both sides of the argument.
In this case, Schoen's poll appears to present only one side of the argument about having the government negotiate prescription drug prices. While Schoen did not release the exact text of the "potential negative implications" tested, he presents results of "additional" data from questions arguing that the proposal "could limit access" to pharmaceutical drugs and "restrict choice," as well as the claim that the plan "will not save enough money to fill gaps in coverage." Nowhere did they present the case for the Democratic bill.
Of course, neither Doug Schoen nor his clients are under any obligation to conduct or release message testing polls that are even handed. But the news media should press for full disclosure of the sponsorship of such surveys before publishing or airing them.
Interests disclosed: As long as we are on the subject, while I recently severed ties with my old firm to devote full time to Pollster.com, I have polled for the last 20 years for Democratic candidates. My former clients include Marion Berry of Arkansas, a primary sponsor of the Democratic bill discussed above.