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Nancy Mathiowetz Headshot

Pushing Back on Push 'Polls'

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Let's put an end to the insidious practice of "push polling!" If organizations want to conduct political telemarketing, then call it what it is--- push calling, calls designed to 'push' potential voters toward or away from a particular candidate. It's the opposite of legitimate polling, which is carefully designed to collect useful information. The difference is in the flow of information. Push calls are designed to influence your impression of a candidate based on the information they provide to you; surveys and polls want to elicit information from you.

Please, could those engaged in the practice of push calls quit including questions in an attempt to disguise the call as a legitimate poll? The addition of a question or set of questions to these calls is deceptive. In the end, push calls do serious harm to the survey and polling industry by aggravating the pool of potential respondents to the point they will no longer participate in legitimate surveys.

Many of us in the research industry have pointed out that while there is nothing new about push calls, what is new is that the practice is becoming far more widespread with the use of automated dialing combined with interactive voice recognition (IVR) systems. Use of IVR alone does not constitute a push call---several survey and polling organizations now use IVR systems for legitimate surveys. However, for the recipient there are a couple of quick ways to tell if the call you receive is a true push call. These calls tend to be quite short, provide slanted information about a candidate or group of candidates, and do not include any demographic questions. One additional feature of push calls: They often are delivered to large numbers of recipients, far greater than the number who would normally be called for a poll or survey.

In Iowa, things are already notching up with the announcement by Americans for Legal Immigration PAC reported today by ABC's Jake Tapper, that they will begin push calls tonight---ABC has the call here. So, rather than trying to hide behind the cloak of legitimate polling, we now see that advocate organizations are willing to issue a press release about their push call campaigns.

As we begin 2008 and what is clearly going to be a hotly contested campaign season, I urge recipients of these calls to recognize that these are NOT polls but rather a thinly disguised attempt to manipulate your opinion. And I urge those engaged in the practice to cease operating under the pretext of a political poll---deliver your message if you must, but don't damn the survey and polling industry along the way.