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Monday, November 06, 2006

Candidates, stop hiding behind push-poll curtain

By Dennis Byrne

Happily, Election Day will end not just those maddening campaign commercials but also a more intrusive annoyance: the push poll.

It starts out as a typical poll. "Would you care to answer a few questions about the elections," the voice on your phone asks. "Whom do you plan to vote for?"

Then it gets weird. As in: "Candidate A beats his wife; does that make you think of him more or less favorably?" Or as my daughter Kati heard when she was called: "Does the fact that Congressman Mark Kirk accepts special-interest money make you think of him more favorably or less favorably?"

So, if you are a supporter of Kirk--the Republican from the north suburban 10th Congressional District who is seeking re-election against Democrat Dan Seals--how are you supposed to answer? Oh, sure, I want my congressman to take special-interest money, so it makes me think more favorably of him.

Which is exactly how Kati, being Kati, answered. Then came four more questions of the same nature, each trying to make Kirk look like he was doing something wrong. And each time, Kati answered that she thinks more favorably of him. She even had the interviewer chuckling. But actually, it wasn't so funny.

"It's like Mark Kirk went out and shot 100 people," she said. "What kind of poll is this anyway?"

The answer is: dirty, low-down and negative.

Kati later told me the caller ID number was 509-765-4321, which turned out to be "disconnected." But she did get the company's name, Communications Center Inc. in Spokane, Wash., which had a real number and a real person answering. She was Judy Goodrich, director of operations, who explained that they don't make up the questions, they just make the calls. She said she could only identify the client if the person agreed, which the person apparently didn't because Goodrich didn't call me back as I asked.

Considering the nastiness of the questions, slinking around is to be expected. I couldn't find anyone who filed a report indicating that the push poll about Kirk was a campaign expense, which probably means that no one is fessing up. The Mellman Group, a well-known Democratic polling firm representing such political clients as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, recently completed a poll showing Kirk's "favorability and job performance rating have [sic] deteriorated significantly," but that was taken before Kati's phone call. Besides, who would be stupid enough to actually use those fabricated push-poll "results," especially since push polls are condemned by the American Association of Political Consultants.

Still, it would be nice if the origins of these scummy attacks were as "transparent" as, say, sponsors of those repulsive televised campaign ads. Take Communications Center, which often is mentioned by visitors to the Web site, which accepts complaints about perceived violations of the National Do Not Call Registry. One from Illinois described how "the questions turned to negative statements about a Republican senator in our state up for re-election. After the third negative statement ... I finally asked why the questions seemed more like Democratic talking points and the caller confirmed that the Democrats had sanctioned the survey. I then hung up as this was just a cheap ploy to get their agenda out."

(Here, I'll stipulate that both parties probably use such polls.)

Said another: "I received a call from this [number] asking for my 92-year-old mother by first name only. They would not say who they were! ... I tried the number back also and got the same message that it had been disconnected." Some reported receiving calls at 2 a.m., or "up to 20 a day." Almost all said they were on the "do-not-call" list prohibiting solicitations by telemarketers.

Goodrich said Communications Center is acting legally because "market research" is exempt from the list. She referred me to, which backed her up. The Web site also explains that calls "on behalf of political organizations" are permitted.

As always, politicians have themselves covered. The laws don't apply equally to them, or to their friends in the survey business. Ask the politicians why, and they'll say political speech can't be constitutionally prohibited, even when it's an intrusive call into your home.

Blah, blah. At least they should have the courage to require that when they commission a push poll, they must crawl out from under their rocks so we can see their disgusting selves in the full light of day.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune


Stephen Schade said...

Mr. Byrne:

As the Tribune reported yesterday, in 2004 Democrats used mostly positive ads, while GOP ads were generally negative. Since negative ads apparently win elections, both sides are using them to a great extent this year. Predictably, you have chosen to attack Democrats, yet it is your own party that set a bad example.

Brie said...

"(Here, I'll stipulate that both parties probably use such polls.)"

Come on, everyone knows that both parties use this disgusting tactic. I'd be willing to bet that you've heard of the famous Bush push poll on John McCain and about some of the more nefarious attempts against Democrats.

I'll agree with you that push polling is terrible, but I think you're obfuscating a little bit when you claim that Republicans only "probably" use push polls. By suggesting that the Dems are definitely to blame, while the Republicans are only "probably" to blame, aren't you trying to sway opinons as well?

dbt said...

This is not a push poll, this is an issue poll. It's annoying, but legit. A push poll is where they ask a leading question that has little or no factual basis in order to get a smear out under the radar. The 2000 bush campaign in the south carolina primary asking if you would change your mind about mccain if you knew he had adopted a black baby, for example.

Stephen Schade said...

Today the New York Times reported that the GOP had used push-polls in Montana, Maryland, Tennessee, and Ohio. It said that Republican leaders were unaware of any Democratic poll-like solicitations in major races this year.

Anonymous said...

The fact that the call your daughter received did not have a blocked caller ID means it was done by a legit firm. A check of public campaign expenditures should reveal who hired the firm. It looks like the Kirk campaign was doing negative research on its own candidate, Mark Kirk. Why do you blame the Seals campaign? Did you call them? Or the Kirk campaign?

This was not a push poll in the sense you are inferring. This was not a Democratic dirty trick. Ask some questions before you start throwing out conspiracy theories like Rush Limbaugh. And the Tribune actually prints you?

hop said...

Thanks for FINALLY mentioning that Republicans use these types of polls also. Did you have to wait until the bottom 1/4 of your editorial? Of course you did. Scum like you can't help youselves. You should be fired.

Mike N said...

Those readers who get agitated by your phony "here I'll stipulate that both parties probably use such polls") are just rising to the bait--and I did too, I admit. But it's what you do; it's who you are. Even when the issue is one on which people may agree--and I agree that push-polling is awful--you can't help but twist it into something other than what is. And there's absolutely nothing new there. It's who you are. It's what you do.

Anonymous said...

you ignorant repugnant republican. if anyone wants to learn about push polls, intimidation, disenfranchisement of minority voting, why just attend a karl rove seminar. if your accusation is true, it just means the democrats is just beginning to catch up with republicans. have a nice day!

p.s. it will be a beatiful congress come jan '07