Push polling the frack ban petition and affinity for Ted Cruz

A number of Denton residents have reported on social media, the Frack Free Denton blog and to Sharon Wilson (who blogged about it here) that they are getting phone calls from a blocked California number about the initiative petition.

(Just now hearing that longtime residents have organized a petition to ban hydraulic fracturing in the city? Get up to speed here.)

I visited with Ed Soph yesterday and he said he got such a call early last week. He said the questions were odd. “If you knew the frack ban would raise property taxes …,” “If you knew it would lower property values …,” “If you knew it was sponsored by UNT students who didn’t even live in Denton …”

The pollster, who would not identify who they were working for, also asked Soph if he liked Ted Cruz and what he thought of the new University of North Texas president.

Soph said he couldn’t make sense of the questions, particularly the one about Senator Cruz, but could tell they weren’t meant to elicit his opinion.

I’ve started poking around campaign finance reports at the state and federal level, since I believe that state law would require such reporting such expenses under the umbrella of a specific-purpose committee.

Meanwhile, I think it’s important for Denton residents and voters to become familiar with push polling techniques, which have nothing to do with polling at all.

Russell D. Renka, professor of political science at Southeast Missouri State University, wrote a paper in 2010 about the different kinds of polling techniques. In it, he shows how push polls are simply a dirty campaign practice.

These dirty campaign practices masquerade as legitimate polls.  They are not inquiries into what respondents truly think.  Traugott and Lavrakas (2000, 165) define them as “a method of pseudo polling in which political propaganda is disseminated to naive respondents who have been tricked into believing they have been sampled for a poll that is sincerely interested in their opinions.  Instead, the push poll’s real purpose is to expose respondents to information … in order to influence how they will vote in the election.”  Asher (2001, 19) concurs:  “push polls are an election campaign tactic disguised as legitimate polling.”  Their contemporary expression through automated telephone calls led Mark Blumenthal of Mystery Pollster to call them “roboscam,” meaning an automated voice asks respondents to indicate a candidate preference, followed by a scathing denunciation of the intended target (Blumenthal 2006a, Mystery Pollster – RoboScam: Not Your Father’s Push Poll, 21 February 2006).  After a couple of attack-statements, it’s on to another number, hitting as many as possible for sake of maximizing the damage to the intended political target.  That, of course, is not real polling at all, which explains why Blumenthal shuns the very term “push poll” for these.

     Legitimate polling organizations universally condemn push polls.  The National Council on Public Polls has shunned them since they masquerade as legitimate queries yet are intended to sway rather than discover the opinion of respondents (NCPP 1995, A Press Warning from the National Council on Public Polls).  So has the American Association for Public Opinion Research, which recommends that the media never publish them or portray them as polls (AAPOR 2007, AAPOR Statement on Push Polls).  Push polls are propaganda similar to negative advertising.  They are conducted by professional political campaign organizations in a manner that detaches them from the intended beneficiary of actions taken against a rival (see Saletan 2000, Push Me, Poll You in Slate Magazine).  Some political interest groups also use them, often in a hot-language campaign to raise money and membership by using scare tactics.  No matter the source, they treat their subjects with contempt. — from “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Public Opinion Polls”

I’ll keep working on it and keep you posted. Keep me posted, too. I’d like to hear from people who get the calls about their experience.

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