Harris Poll Isn't What It Used To Be -- Now That It's The 'No Labels' Pollster
No sooner did four new national polls show President Joe Biden edging past Donald Trump -- reversing the results of recent weeks -- than a fifth survey emerged that purported to show the opposite. In that poll, released by Harris X, Trump was still ahead of Biden by a few points.
But on closer inspection, that fifth poll raises some suspicions – and some questions about how news organizations should treat polling by Harris X. Billed as an “exclusive” on The Messenger website, it brandishes the name Harris, once a polling outfit with a respected pedigree. Yet that name is no longer what it was – because Harris X, as the firm now calls itself, is actually a subsidiary of Stagwell, Inc. And Stagwell is owned and controlled by one Mark Penn.
That name may be familiar from Penn’s days as a political consultant to Bill and Hillary Clinton, with whom he has long since broken. He is better known now for his connections to No Labels, the dubiously “independent” pseudo-party that is threatening to nominate a presidential ticket on a third line – thus potentially swinging the election to Trump. No Labels is run by Penn’s wife Nancy Jacobson, and No Labels has a cozy arrangement with Penn and Stagwell for polling by Harris X.
As Thomas Byrne Edsall recently noted in the New York Times, most elected Democrats and more than a few Republicans now suspect that Jacobson and Penn – who has cultivated Trump assiduously – are operating No Labels as a covert effort to re-elect the former president.
So whenever Harris X polls the presidential race, it confronts a glaring conflict of interest, or perhaps several. Its polls need to show that Biden is weaker than Trump to justify entering the race with a third-line candidate. Never mind that No Labels refuses to disclose its donors – many of whom have been exposed as pro-Trump Republicans – or its candidate selection process.
But these sore points may not faze The Messenger, whose founder and CEO is one James Finkelstein, a close associate of Trump and Rudy Giuliani since New York days whose brother Andrew Stein, a failed New York Democratic politician and convicted tax evader, was a longtime Trump confidant and adviser. The masthead of The Messenger is littered with political editors who formerly worked for such Trumpist outfits as the New York Post and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review..
Maybe their poll was conducted according to best practices and is on the level. Maybe Mark Penn and Nancy Jacobson and No Labels are on the level too. And maybe not.