Push polling in the West Metro…already?

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Do you want your tax dollars paying to educate the children of illegal immigrants?

That was the gist of a question an Edina resident fielded from a telephone poller this weekend. Such push-polling often has little to do with gathering demographic information, and everything to do with pushing a political agenda. A report of a such a push-polling call in Edina popped up over the weekend, pushing what the tipster called “right-wing hot button issues.”

Although the tipster did not have time to record the call, the wording was clearly slanted toward conservative positions on immigration and tax issues. The call included little in the way of demographic information gathering, went extremely fast as it solicited answers using an automated audio system, and did not include a disclaimer stating who had paid for the call.

According to the tipster, the questions went as follows:

-Would you support a law to protect and define marriage as between one man and one woman?
-Do you want your tax dollars to pay for educating the children of illegal immigrants?
-Do you want to pay for illegal immigrants to receive medical services?
-Do you want to pay a tax to pay for highways?
-Do you think the current legislature is doing a good job?
-Would you back a law that offered moderate gun control?

The call did show up on caller ID with the name “FEC Research,” a front name for ccAdvertising. On their website, ccAdvertising provides audio samples of some of their past campaigns. According to their description, ccAdvertising “has been active in many campaigns and political initiative (sic) under our Election Research division. Below is a sampling of how ccAdvertising has been used to gather valuable information from constituents and voters that has proved very valuable to our clients.” Those examples are not what honest political professionals would call polls, but rather specific political advocacy, much like the call received this weekend in Edina. The firm was reported to be involved in a 2005 push-polling effort in South Dakota touching, dishonestly, on the findings of an abortion task force.

Push polls were an issue in the west Metro in the 2006 election cycle, targeting several DFL candidates, including State Rep. Melissa Hortman. The House Republican Campaign Committee made several payments to a firm called Strategic Fundraising, a firm that then showed up on caller IDs across the Metro with push polling targeting DFL candidates. However, in 2006, the push polling did not start until much later in the cycle.

Although not illegal, push polling is often cited as a dirty trick on the campaign trail. The idea is usually to formulate questions in such a way that the question itself inspires a biased frame of mind in the recipient. Most push polls include a “now that you’ve heard this biased but (usually) legally true information about candidate x, does your opinion change?” The question is not designed to gather meaningful poll results for publication, but rather to measure the effectiveness of specific talking points for the candidate or organization who paid for the call.

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