Washington, DC – As election season reaches a fever pitch, expect to hear reports about “push polls.” Both the general public and targeted candidates are increasingly exposed to political persuasion calls, often referred to as “push polls” or “political telemarketing,” at this time in every election cycle. These calls often include negative – possibly inflammatory – information about a candidate.

The media often label these telephone calls as push polls because they seek to “push” or promote a certain candidate or position, but so-called “push polling” is not polling at all but rather a form of campaign messaging fraudulently disguised as survey and opinion research. While polling can be properly used to test messages, a push poll is not a test, but rather an effort to disseminate those messages under the guise of a legitimate poll.

It can be difficult to distinguish legitimate survey and opinion research from campaign messaging. From a researcher’s perspective, “Not all calls containing negative political information are push polls,” said Mike Donatello, vice president of research quality with the Marketing Research Association (MRA). “Researchers and political campaigns often test the effectiveness of messages about opponents as well as themselves,” Donatello added. “That’s legitimate surveying, and citizens should feel confident about participating in such efforts.”

MRA developed the grid below to help journalists and voters 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 Calls

“Push-Poll” Calls

  1. Are generally five minutes or longer.
  1. Are 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. Are 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.

Political persuasion calls are not legitimate, scientific polls, and a persuasion call under the guise of a poll is particularly unethical. Since such calls are deceptive, masquerading as a legitimate practice for political gain, MRA has 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 real research.

“Each such call abuses the research profession by presenting a misleading and negative view of what research is and how it works, making the public much less likely to participate in legitimate survey and opinion research studies in the future,” commented Donatello.

MRA has helped some states craft laws that punish deceptive campaign calls and protect legitimate research and continues to pursue changes to a poorly-drafted law in New Hampshire that penalizes survey research instead of deceptive campaign calls. The association is also considering federal legislation that would target deceptive political calls made under the guise of surveys.

Founded in 1957, the Marketing Research Association (MRA) is the leading and largest association of the survey, opinion and marketing research profession in the U.S., which delivers insights and intelligence to guide the decisions of companies providing products and services to consumers and businesses. Learn more at http://www.insightsassocation.org