Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Is Bachmann Underestimating the Availability of Public Information?

Our colleagues at 3rd Coast Research, a Democratic consulting firm based in Chicago, recently did a great blog post on Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-MN) comments on the U.S. Census.

In a recent Washington Times article, Rep. Michele Bachmann said that she was so worried that information from next year's U.S. Census will be abused that she will not fill it out beyond very minimal information. She said, "I know for my family the only question we will be answering is how many people are in our home. We won't be answering any information beyond that, because the Constitution doesn't require any information beyond that." Bachmann added that the questions in the Census survey had become "very intricate, very personal."

So 3rd Coast Research completed a hypothetical census survey for the Congresswoman using publicly available information. Overall, they were able to answer 80% of the census survey for Bachmann with sources such as Lexis Nexis, the Almanac of American Politics, and Google.

Additionally, they found that an additional 5% of the survey could have been completed if they had bothered to make the 391 mile trip from Chicago to the Washington County Assessor office in the Twin Cities suburb of Woodbury (something they would have certainly done if they were working for Bachmann’s opponent). And using interviews and court record requests, they easily could have obtained much more useful information on the Congresswoman.

As 3rd Coast points out

The process used to complete the survey is standard in any opposition research process, and has no doubt been repeated for Rep. Bachmann several times.

Not only was it ridiculous for Bachmann to assume that her privacy would be better protected if she answered only a few questions for the Census, but it was a very telling simulation on the availability of public information.

Furthermore it demonstrates just how effective and important opposition research is for a campaign. It’s typically not too difficult to collect and can go a long way towards better knowing your opponent. Using the information can be helpful, depending on what you reveal, but in order to even make that decision you must have the research done first.

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