Beware the “Push Poll”

The November 2016 elections didn’t exactly build our confidence in polling and pollsters, and most vowed a period of “soul searching” after a series of fairly spectacular inaccuracies.  So we’re already wary of polls.  Hopefully the soul searching will yield something, but there’s a kind of poll that we should be suspicious of forever: the so-called push poll, a staple of dirty political trickery.

PoynterRick Guzman—in his run for mayor of Aurora, IL—has been a victim of push polls both in the primary and, now, general election.  It goes like this, a fake pollster calls up and asks questions intended to plant serious questions in the voter’s mind.  “What would you think of Rick Guzman if you heard he had mismanaged a non-profit?”  In this world of fake news, this counts 100% as a fake question, and it gets away with slander without technically being slander.  The questions didn’t say that Guzman mismanaged a non-profit, but asks only what the voter would think of him IF he mismanaged a non-profit.  That giant IF, however, often slides by the listener, especially because they think this might be a real poll.

There’s a similar question going around now asking what a voter would think of Guzman IF they found out he had paid taxes late.

No such lateness.  And about the non-profit mismanagement?  The reality is the just opposite.  In 2016, after a year-long research and vetting process, Guzman’s non-profit, Emmanuel House, was named one of the “Top 100 Most Innovative” social change organizations in the world.

Vicki Krueger, writing for the well-respected Poynter Institute, says this about push polls:

“It happens  every election cycle. You’ll get a call that sounds like a political poll but is really a campaign tactic. Some calls are ‘push polls,’ political telemarketing that attempts to create negative views of candidates or issues. Others are legitimate message-testing surveys, used by campaigns to see which types of messages will be most successful.

“Here’s how you can tell the difference.

Push polls
*  Often ask only one or very few questions, all about a single candidate or a single issue.
*  Usually ask questions that are strongly negative (or sometimes uniformly positive) describing the candidate or the issue.
*  May not name the organization conducting the calls, or sometimes use a phony name.
*  Do not ask for demographic information.
*  Can give evasive answers when you ask for information about the survey.
*  Usually call very large numbers of people, sometimes many thousands.
*  Do not use a random sample.
*  Rarely, if ever, report results.

Message testing
*  Usually based on a random sample of voters.
*  The number of calls is within the range of legitimate surveys, typically between 400 and 1,500 interviews.
*  Usually contains more than a few questions, including demographic data.
*  Will often share results on request.”

So be alert to negativity and evasiveness.  Ask the questions the Push Poll criteria above imply.  What organization is calling?  Where can I see the results?  Get technical, even: What’s your sample size, and is it randomized?—which could scare off even the most committed fake pollster, though most are hired guns and not committed at all.

The Poynter Institute, established in 1975, has this tagline: “A Global Leader in Journalism. Strengthening Democracy.”  As much as Poynter really has done for journalism and democracy, all us ordinary citizens must finally be the ones who, on behalf of democracy, step up and reject tactics that spread insinuations and falsehoods.  These ultimately weaken the fabric of civil, respectful discourse.  Guzman for Aurora is proud it’s never stooped to such tactics.

 Go to the Lead Post for the Guzman for Aurora campaign on this site.

 Go to the Guzman for Aurora website.

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