A push poll
is a political campaign
technique in which an individual or organization attempts to influence or alter the view of respondents under the guise of conducting a poll
. In a push poll, large numbers of respondents are contacted, and little or no effort is made to collect and analyze response data. Instead, the push poll is a form of telemarketing
-based propaganda and rumor mongering, masquerading as a poll. Push polls may rely on innuendo
or knowledge gleaned from opposition research
on an opponent. They are generally viewed as a form of negative campaigning
. The term is also sometimes used inaccurately to refer to legitimate polls which test political messages, some of which may be negative. Push polling has been condemned by the American Association of Political Consultants
, and is illegal in New Hampshire
Forms of push polls
The mildest forms of push polling are designed merely to remind voters of a particular issue. For instance, a push poll might ask respondents to rank candidates based on their support of abortion
in order to get voters thinking about that issue.
Many push polls are negative attacks on other candidates. These attacks often contain information with little or no basis in fact.
One way to distinguish between push polling as a tactic and polls which legitimately seek information is the sample size. Genuine polls make do with small, representative samples, whereas push polls can be very large, like any other mass marketing effort.
True push polls tend to be very short, with only a handful of questions, so as to make as many calls as possible. Any data obtained (if used at all) is secondary in importance to negatively affecting the targeted candidate. Legitimate polls are often used by candidates to test potential messages. They frequently ask about either positive and negative statements about any or all major candidates in an election and always ask demographic information at the end.
Political push polls
Perhaps the most famous use of push polls is in the 2000 United States Republican Party primaries
, when it was alleged that George W. Bush
's campaign used push polling to torpedo the campaign of Senator John McCain
. Voters in South Carolina
reportedly were asked "Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for John McCain for president if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?" The poll's allegation had no substance, but was heard by thousands of primary voters. McCain and his wife had in fact adopted
girl. Political consultant Lee Atwater
was also well known for using push-polling among his aggressive campaign tactics. In 2008, Jewish voters in Florida
were targeted by a push poll attempting to disparage Barack Obama
by linking him with the Palestinian Liberation Organization
. The Jewish Council for Education & Research, an organization that has endorsed Obama, denounced the push-poll as misinformation and lies.
The main advantage of push polls is that they are an effective way of maligning an opponent ("pushing" voters towards a predetermined point of view) while avoiding direct responsibility for the distorted or false information used in the push poll. They are risky for this same reason: if credible evidence emerges that the polls were directly ordered by a campaign/candidate, it would do serious blowback to that campaign. Push polls are also relatively expensive, having a far higher cost per voter than radio or television commercials. Thus, push polls are most used in elections with fewer voters, such as party primaries, or in close elections where a relatively small change in votes can mean victory or defeat.