"Push polls" - Deceptive Advocacy/Persuasion Under the Guise of Legitimate Polling
October 28, 2014

AUTHOR: Howard Fienberg

The insights industry stands opposed to so-called "push polling," which is not polling at all – it is a form of political campaign messaging or negative phone banking fraudulently disguised as polling. While polling can be properly used to test messages, "push polling" is not a test, but rather an effort to communicate those messages by giving that communication the false appearance of polling.

Roll Call’s Stuart Rothenberg summarizes the difference between real research and "push polls," saying "Polls are methodologically rigorous public opinion surveys of generally 500 to 1,000 people intended to learn about and measure voters opinions and test possible campaign messages. Advocacy telephone calls, on the other hand, are made to tens of thousands of people and are intended to create or change opinion." ("For the Thousandth Time, Don’t Call Them “Push Polls”." Stuart Rothenberg. Roll Call. March 8, 2007.)

In that Roll Call article, Stu Rothenberg stated that the term "push poll" should never even enter the "lexicon, since it does nothing but confuse two very different and totally unrelated uses of the telephone." That is why MRA generally refers to "push polls" as "deceptive persuasion calls," or "deceptive advocacy techniques," to better fit the term to the activity. Some researchers also refer to "push polling" as "political telemarketing."

Political persuasion calls are a campaign advocacy technique used to "push" a voter away from a particular candidate or issue and toward another – they are not a legitimate, scientific poll. A persuasion call under the guise of a poll is a particularly unethical and deceptive activity.

We have been battling against "push poll" activities for years, seeking to educate consumers, political professionals, and legislators and regulators on the difference between bona fide research, and political persuasion under the guise of research – and the damage that such deceptive activities inflict on bona fide research.

The practice of "push polling" is abusive to voters, candidates, parties, and organizations. More broadly, each such effort abuses the research profession by giving recipients a misleading and negative view of what research is and how it works – making them much less likely to participate in future survey and opinion research studies. In an era of ever-shrinking response rates, the research profession cannot afford such impugning.

"Push poll" calls are usually 30-60 seconds in duration, ask only a few leading or misleading questions and are placed to many thousands of people. Legitimate research calls generally take at least a few minutes, ask carefully designed questions, collect demographic information and are placed to a small representative sample of a particular segment of the public. In short, "push polls" are designed solely to influence potential voters – sharing information instead of collecting it, and shaping opinion instead of analyzing it.

Serious polls can include "push" questions that contain some explosive or even incorrect information, but that doesn’t make them campaign advocacy. Message testing is a legitimate research function and is also frequently found in non-political marketing research.

It can be difficult to distinguish legitimate survey, opinion and marketing research from deceptive political advocacy, but not all calls containing negative political information are push polls. Researchers and political campaigns often test the effectiveness of messages about opponents as well as themselves. That’s legitimate surveying, and citizens should feel confident about participating in such efforts.

The Insights Association developed the grid below to help the public distinguish between legitimate polls and "push polls." Legitimate researchers would tell you it’s not worth your time responding to a push poll. But if you want your opinion to count, respond to legitimate surveys.

Legitimate Polls/Message Testing Research

“Push-Poll” Calls

  1. Generally five minutes or longer.
  1. Generally 1 to 2 minutes long.
  1. Neither support nor oppose a candidate/issue or information being tested; seek only to collect unbiased information.
  1. Designed to persuade people, not to measure opinion.
  1. Include questions regarding respondent demographics, such as age range or gender.
  1. Do not ask any personal or demographic questions, which could be used to analyze poll results.
  1. Clearly identify the organization or call center making the call.
  1. May mask the organization or call center making the call, or use a phony name.
  1. Generally total between 300 and 1,500 completed interviews.
  1. Tend to target thousands of people, regardless of demographics.


Categories: Government Affairs
Tags: push poll | politics |