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NYT: New Limits on Automated Calls?

Topics: IVR , IVR Polls

Today's New York Times gives prominent play to a story on bills working their way through various state legislatures across the country to crack down on prerecorded campaign calls:

Nearly two-thirds of registered voters nationwide received the recorded telephone messages, which as political calls are exempt from federal do-not-call rules, leading up to the November elections, according to a survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, an independent research group. The calls, often known as robocalls, were the second most popular form of political communication, trailing only direct mail, the group said.

The article did not address the potential impact, if any, on automated surveys conducted using a pre-recorded script that ask respondents to answer by typing keys of their touch tone telephones. As of January, according to the newsletter of the Council of American Survey Organizations (CASRO), there were already "sixteen bills in seven different states addressing automated calls." However, as I read the CASRO report, most of these new bills -- like the federal "do-not-call" regulations -- do not appear to restrict calls made for the purpose of survey research.

I thought it might be useful to ask the opinion of survey researchers who conduct automated "interactive voice response" (IVR) surveys for their reaction to today's Times story.

Jay Leve is the editor of SurveyUSA, a firm that conducts public polls exclusively with IVR. His comment:

The people who try to deceive voters, using whatever technology, should be put in prison. Nothing is more repugnant than individuals or firms who use technology to disenfranchise voters, which is what the calls being debated do. Many such calls are designed to suppress turnout. They are the 21st Century Bull Connor, with a fire-hose replaced by Ethernet. SurveyUSA welcomes carefully drawn legislation that makes it a crime to mislead voters, by whatever means. SurveyUSA opposes sloppily drawn legislation, in any jurisdiction, that fails to recognize the vital community interest served by legitimate, hyper-local public opinion research.

Thomas Riehle is a partner in RT Strategies, a firm that usually conducts telephone surveys using live interviewers (including the polls conducted for the Cook Political Report). One exception was last year's Majority Watch project, which fielded pre-election polls via IVR in contested U.S. House races. Riehle's comment:

The research industry, under the leadership of CMOR [the Council for Marketing and Opinion Research], has done a good job in helping legislators and regulators distinguish between a telemarketing program contacting hundreds of thousands of households with sales or advertising mass-marketing messages, which 'do not call' lists regulate, and live telephone interviews with a few hundred or a thousand households who complete a survey research project. I would hope that regulators or legislators intending to limit any negative impact they might find caused by hundreds of thousands of political telemarketing recorded calls will not unintentionally limit the ability to complete a few hundred survey research calls using recorded-voice interviews.

As they say in radio land, our comment line is open. What do you think?

 

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