Concord, New Hampshire – April 24, 2014 – Governor Maggie Hassan (D) made New Hampshire safe for polling yesterday by signing a bill into law that eliminates her state’s restrictions on legitimate research.
“This law is going to give clarity to businesses and better protection to voters,” said Sen. Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro). “Businesses will have clear guidelines and the peace of mind that they will not face the threat of prosecution simply for conducting normal opinion research. And voters can have more confidence that the polls they receive are legitimate. This should help everyone.”
S.B. 196, sponsored by Senators David Pierce (D-Lebanon) and Bradley, redefines a “push poll” as a call conducted “for purposes other than bona fide survey and opinion research,” but which is made to seem like a survey and is “part of a series of like telephone calls that consist of more than 2,000 connected calls that last less than 2 minutes” for a federal election, “more than 500 connected calls that last less than 2 minutes” in most state or local elections, or “more than 200 connected calls that last less than 2 minutes in state representative elections.”
The Marketing Research Association (MRA) and the American Association for Political Consultants (AAPC) have been trying to convince New Hampshire to fix their push poll law for more than three years, educating legislators and the attorney general (AG), as well as supporting a successful Federal Election Commission opinion ruling and filing an amicus brief in a case between the AG and a accused violator of the law.
“This was a bipartisan effort to make our law clear and easy to understand for everyone,” said Sen. Pierce. “We want to catch bad actors but also make sure that real opinion research can take place in New Hampshire. Now, the attorney general will have an easy way to quickly identify those who are truly trying to sway elections with deceitful methods and distinguish them from legitimate polling organizations,” he added.
For many years, New Hampshire law has required “any person who engages in push-polling” to disclose the sponsor of the call to the recipient. However, the scope of the term push poll has been so broad as to incorporate most any real poll that asks about a candidate’s “character, status, or political stance or record.” This included not only real research calls testing negative messages but also more generic polls questioning voters’ opinions on relatively objective or verifiable issues and concerns.
“That original push poll law was intended to prevent deceptive campaign advocacy techniques,” according to MRA’s Director of Government Affairs Howard Fienberg, “but it unintentionally harmed legitimate research by biasing research calls in New Hampshire, distorting research results and making it impossible to accurately reflect the thoughts and opinions of the people of New Hampshire."
Due to the law, some researchers had said they would no longer conduct political research in the state, especially after supposed violations cost Mountain West Research $20,000 in 2010 and OnMessage, Inc. $15,000 in 2012. The AG’s appeal last summer in his office’s case against former Congressman Charlie Bass’ campaign caused further concern.
“Thankfully, the legislature and the governor have refocused New Hampshire law to prosecute political malfeasance instead of legitimate polling,” said Whit Ayres, past president of AAPC. Ayres, himself a pollster, commented that “while push polling is a particularly unethical and deceptive activity, I'm glad to see the state acknowledge the validity of legitimate research.”
S.B. 196 also includes a legal definition of bona fide survey and opinion research developed by MRA in consultation with the broader research profession. It is the first statute in the country to include such a definition and recognition of survey and opinion research.
Founded in 1957, the Marketing Research Association (MRA) is the leading and largest association of the survey, opinion and marketing research profession, which delivers insights and intelligence to guide the decisions of companies providing products and services to consumers and businesses.
The American Association of Political Consultants (AAPC) is the world's largest non-partisan professional society for political professionals. Association membership consists of political consultants, media consultants, campaign managers, corporate public affairs officers, fund-raisers, and pollsters.