Sunday, January 18, 2004
My First Push Poll
Seems things must be heating up for the Clark campaign in Tennessee. So far he is the only candidate to run t.v. ads, he's the first to contact me in a "get out the vote" phone campaign, and today I got to participate in my first "push poll."
Push polls are a form of survey research in which a political team accomplishes two main objectives: they obtain information about what people think, and they spread a mix of half-truths and lies about an opponent and favorable messages about the survey's sponsor. The goal is to get you, by the end of the survey, to change your answer to the question--"Of the following candidates [list of candidates], for whom are you likely to vote?"--from the person you listed originally to the survey sponsor. These are not new. If you followed the 2000 campaign, especially the Bush-McCain race in South Carolina, you know how low it can go.
Judging from this poll, the Clark folks are worried about Dean, with some pro forma questions about Lieberman and some other Tennessee Democrats (Gore, Sasser, and Ford).
What I found particularly shocking is who the survey research team was. The caller identified themselves as from G&S Research (haven't found info on them) and identified it as a division of Peter Hart Associates in D.C.
Well, Peter D. Hart Research Associates is a pretty bigtime research group, with some affiliation to Educational Testing Services (ETS), the people who bring you the SAT and GRE.
As a researcher, I find the idea of push polling galling. The presence of push polling and push pollsters undermines legitimate survey research by eroding people's willingness to participate in academic research, which prevents possible insights into real world phenomena that survey research affords.
However, I find it even more disturbing for the research arm of a supposedly scientific firm like ETS participating, even at arm's length, with this type of polling. I understand they want to make a buck. I understand that it is probably a separate entity from the group that works on the SAT and other educational testing research. But, as somebody who has practiced survey research and uses survey research, I find it repugnant that they would be involved at all. It's like the difference between learning karate from Mr. Miyagi and learning with the Cobra Kai. Intention matters.