We know that Presidential policy platforms are not what they used to be, but like the mixed messages in the Republican platform (covered by MRA last week), the Democratic National Platform for 2012 holds some interesting portents for the survey and opinion research profession.

We could take solace in the knowledge that Presidents and political parties don't normally govern based on their election platforms, but this particular platform reflects the Administration's statements and actions on several key issues. It thus highlights the incumbent's record as much as its sets an agenda for President Obama's second term in the White House.

Internet privacy gets mentioned early (on page 41 of the pdf): "President Obama is strongly committed to protecting an open Internet that fosters investment, innovation, creativity, consumer choice, and free speech, unfettered by censorship or undue violations of privacy." Of course, when Democrats discuss "open Internet," the discussion usually revolves around concerns about "net neutrality," an issue on which the Marketing Research Association (MRA) has always been agnostic. It also strays into a similar area as the Republican platform, focusing on international controls over the Internet infrastructure in its discussion of "Internet freedom" (p. 69).

The platform then hits upon one of MRA's top priorities, but in the exact wrong way: "His administration will continue its fight against the exploitative practice of employers fraudulently misclassifying workers as independent contractors or white-collar workers to evade taxes or deny them protections and overtime benefits." The state and federal crusade against "misclassification" of independent contractors has resulted in research respondents who receive incentives getting classified as if they are employees of research firms. That is why Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA-03) introduced the Research Fairness Act (H.R. 5915), to clarify the nonemployee status of marketing research participants and mystery shoppers and remove the growing cloud of uncertainty that is hindering this industry’s continued growth and threatening other industries’ capability to learn and understand what consumers want and need. Unfortunately, while the GOP platform made no mention of this issue, the Democratic platform reinforces the threat to the research profession that MRA aimed to combat in pushing H.R. 5915.

Next came a sunny outlook on regulatory reform: "President Obama proposed a simpler, smarter, and more cost-effective approach to regulation, rather than one riddled with special rules written by lobbyists. Efficient and effective regulations enforce common sense safeguards to protect the American people. ... But there’s no question that some regulations are outdated, unnecessary, or too costly. That’s why President Obama asked all federal agencies to review and streamline outdated regulations, an effort that will save at least $10 billion over five years, and will eliminate tens of millions of hours in annual paperwork burdens."

Unfortunately, as MRA explained back in March 2011 (“Grappling with the Federal Regulatory Leviathan.” Alert! March 2011), the Obama Administration's Executive Order aimed at improving regulation and regulatory review "mirrors an initiative of the Clinton Administration and also hews closely to similar toothless initiatives under every Administration over the last couple of generations," including President Ronald Reagan's.

The platform then gets more helpfully specific, reiterating the Obama Administration's interest in their "Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights" and the multistakeholder privacy process in which MRA currently is involved: "That’s why the administration launched the Internet Privacy Bill of Rights and encouraged innovative solutions such as a Do Not Track option for consumers."

Like the Republican platform, the Democratic platform also touchs on cybersecurity (p. 60), but not data security.

Unlike the Republican platform, the Democratic platform does not even mention the Census or the American Community Survey (ACS), issues that MRA and our coalition allies asked to be included, since the party has often been a helpful supporter.

While the Republican platform sent the research profession a lot of mixed messages, one of the clearest messages from the Democratic platform (independent contractor status) is extremely bad for the research profession. So, with no nod to the Census, a throwaway mention of regulatory reform, distinct support for some data privacy regulation, and a continued assault on independent contractor status (and whether research respondents are employees or independent contractors), MRA can give the 2012 Democratic National Platform a couple of cheers, but it mostly deserves jeers.

Image credit: USA 2012: The Next President