Pollster.com

Articles and Analysis

 

Rothenberg on "Push Polls"

Topics: Push "Polls"

I have a Google News search for the term "push poll" which reliably produces items almost every day. More often than not, news items use the term -- inappropriately -- to describe a poll, or poll question, that someone finds objectionable or biased. I have written about the subject often (most recently here, here, here and here), but I have to concede that Roll Call columnist and political commentator Stu Rothernberg has created a simple, concise review that ought to be required reading for any reporter, editor or blogger before using the phrase "push poll" in a story.

To Rothenberg, it all boils down to the difference between legitimate research and "advocacy calls:"

Polls are methodologically rigorous public opinion surveys of generally 500 to 1,000 people intended to learn about and measure voters' opinions and test possible campaign messages. Advocacy telephone calls, on the other hand, are made to tens of thousands of people and are intended to create or change opinion...

[snip]

As I have argued every year for the past five and apparently will have to continue doing until I have taken my last breath, push polls are really advocacy calls aimed at thousands of recipients. They are like television or radio ads, except they are delivered over the telephone. They seek to convey positive or negative information to influence a voter's final vote decision.

Advocacy calls are not, in any shape or form, public opinion surveys.

Amen. But the hard part are those polls that seem to fall somewhere in between. More often than not, Rothenberg notes, complaints about "push polls" result from internal campaign surveys "that include very negative information about a candidate for office." Here, he puts it plainly:

This kind of information can be part of an advocacy telephone call or part of a legitimate poll. When they are in a real survey, they are known as "push questions," because they seek to measure which questions actually push voter sentiment and which issues can be used by a candidate to win a race.

Push questions are not the same thing as push polls. Push questions, which are included in a survey of only 500 to 1,000 respondents, are a legitimate part of a public opinion poll that seeks to test effective messages.

You may not agree that "push questions" are legitimate or ethical. Their content may be simply objectionable (depending on your politics) or flatly untrue. True or not, such questions may anger respondents and the they may produce deceptive results (if presented out of context). However, it is important to distinguish between untrue or deceptive questions in the context of a legitimate attempt to measure opinion and the sort of dirty trick fraud that aims to broadly communicate a message under the guise of legitimate research.

 

MAP - US, AL, AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, HI, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, VA, WA, WV, WI, WY, PR