Thursday, August 11, 2016

Who’s Behind This Mysterious Website?

The website LongRoom hosts a polling page that purports to “remove the bias in the polls,” which mostly has the effect of showing Donald Trump up in the presidential race, though most polls show Hillary Clinton leading him by a single-digit margin. The site just popped up with polls out of nowhere and the site’s “staff” has all the appearance of being fictitious. 

Websites with excellent records of forecasting everything from sports to politics like "FiveThirtyEight" polls-only forecast, which consolidates hundreds of polls, show Clinton winning the popular vote 48.9 percent to 41.5 percent if the election was held today. The forecast gives her an 86.3 percent chance of winning the election right now. According to the most recent check-in with LongRoom, Trump is leading Clinton by 0.6 percentage points. The site’s methodology page assures readers that “it is a mathematical certainty, that as the election approaches, all of the polls will begin to match the polls here on LongRoom.”

That's comforting and good to know. But there are questions.

Here's 538's take on all this:

“LongRoom claims to “unbias” the polls using “actual state voter registration data from the Secretary of State or Election Division of each state.” The website contends that almost every public poll is biased in favor of Clinton. Think about what that means: The website is saying that a large number of honest professional pollsters who make their living trying to provide accurate information — and have a good record of doing so — are all deliberately biasing the polls and aren’t correcting for it.  
I’d also point out that election offices from different states collect different data. Some states don’t have party registration; other states don’t collect data on a person’s race; some states collect data on neither. There are some companies that try to fill in missing data for each state, though it costs a lot to get that data. Isn’t it more plausible the people who get paid to know what they are doing are right, while some anonymous website on the internet with unclear methodology is wrong?”
In 2012, Dean Chambers did much the same thing, “unskewing” the polls that correctly showed Mitt Romney losing, only to admit after the election that he’d been misguided in his efforts — Chambers’s name was out in the press and to his credit, he publicly took stock of his mistakes after the fact. But LongRoom and whoever runs it has gone out of its way to obfuscate its identity. The site has an “about us” page which lists four people associated with the site, but they each seem to be without any semblance of an online paper trail, an odd thing in the age of the internet.
“Michael Ellis,” the man listed as LongRoom’s managing editor, is described in only the vaguest of terms as “an Internet Executive with over 23 years of experience, including general management of mid to large sized publications. He has been involved with internet community management his entire career.” The three other staff members have similarly indistinct bios, and rather than photographed headshots, the staff is depicted in sketches. None of the staff appears to have Twitter accounts, let alone follow the @LongRoomNews account. Searches for the staff on other social networking sites did not lead anywhere and there is no listed point of contact for any of the LongRoom staff members anywhere on the site. FiveThirtyEight reached out to the site’s only point of contact for comment — a support email address — and did not hear back. A public records search for LongRoom yielded no results for the business. 
But an analysis of the site’s IP address showed that in April 2015, LongRoom switched its registration to a domain that for a fee, allows registrants to keep their names private — Domains By Proxy, LLC. The last name associated with the website, as recently as January 2015, is Fred Waid, who listed the site’s associated organization as “American Separatist” based out of New Mexico.
My first thought when I saw the site a couple of days ago was that it was a college project, like one used as research for a dissertation. Now I'm not so sure.