Tuesday, October 21, 2008

If push polled, push back

Unlike most other folks at this time of year, I look forward to political phone calls. It gives me a different sort of insight into how campaigns are going--based on the tactics that the various campaigns are willing to use.

Three times in the last two weeks, my household has been pushpolled--which I regard generally as an act of a desperate campaign. Push polls are inherently deceptive--the pollsters act as if they want to hear your opinion when really what's at issue is feeding you a set of ever-more negative facts designed to sway you away from a particular candidate. You'll know them by questions phrased something like, "Would you be as likely to vote for {insert name of candidate} if you knew that s/he {insert reprehensible act or vote}." If you stay on the line long enough--20 minutes in one case--questions become increasingly negative. 

I think push polling is unethical because it begins with a deception--my opinion is not being sought, rather the person or group paying for the poll is attempting to change it through providing me with a slanted set of facts--some of which aren't very factual. The technique itself is in disrepute because candidates who do it risk a backlash, often from voters who have not yet made up their minds. Most often, push polls are commissioned by national political organizations or candidates. 

But, this election season has been different. This week I was push polled by Senator Chuck Graham's opponent(s), and earlier this month by opponent(s) of Gubernatorial candidate Jay Nixon.  Notice, I say opponents because it's never clear to me who is paying for this stuff.

While there's not much I can do about it, I do make an attempt to level the playing field. First, I keep the person on the phone as long as I can stand it. (If they are talking to me, they aren't talking to someone else--and talking to me can get expensive.) Second, I always ask to speak to a supervisor. When that person comes on the phone, I ask who is paying for the poll. Supervisors are generally instructed not to answer this question--so I ask to speak to that person's supervisor. Once I made it up the food chain to four supervisors until the folks at the other end finally decided I was so difficult to deal with, they hung up. (But, I had cost them time and money.) Third, I try to out the campaign--sometimes on Views of the News but always with my students. I figure what you do know, you can prepare to combat. 

I'd be curious to know how many others are sharing my experiences of local candidates using push polls--and what their strategies are for dealing with this practice. 

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