What is a Push Poll?

Posted on: October 11th, 2012 by Ari Wubbold

As the election in November looms closer, voters across the country – especially in crucial swing states – are being targeted by pollsters eager to capture the most current state of public opinion. With that search for information comes significant confusion over what constitutes legitimate polling. While some may take issue with how certain polls are conducted – for example, calling only landline telephones tends to reach an older demographic, potentially skewing polling data – one should acknowledge that most reputable polling outfits try to adhere to strict guidelines of conduct. Occasionally, however, a polling tactic emerges that casts the entire industry in an unflattering light.

 Ah, push it – push it real good.

There is pervading confusion over what a push poll actually is. This confusion partially stems from a lack of understanding over what pollsters do with the data they accumulate. DHM Research produces data primarily for clients such as governments, nonprofits, and businesses in order to help them better inform and shape public policy and decision-making. This data is not utilized by DHM for any other purpose than to inform the client of the opinions of whichever demographics they chose to target; no hidden agenda, no predetermined outcome. A push poll, on the other hand, is an entirely different animal.

So what is a push poll? Push polls are effectively telemarketing tools for campaigns. They utilize statements (often false) that are intended to “push” someone in a predetermined direction. Using the facade of a legitimate attempt to capture public opinion, these polls are not polls at all; they make no effort to gather and quantify data and instead serve as large-scale attempts to reshape consumer (or voter) opinion. Here is an example (with special thanks to Isaac Asimov): “If you found that candidate X was a robot, would you be less likely or more likely to vote for him/her/it?” The intention of this “question” is clear: to inculcate in respondents negative opinions towards candidate X. By asking this question to tens of thousands of participants – a much larger scale than traditional opinion polls – purveyors of such push polls are able to plant a seed of doubt in the minds of a significant population group (in this case as to the actual humanity of a candidate). In a contested race, such a strategy might just push enough voters to impact the outcome.

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