The talk today around the Arizona blogosphere has to do with 'push-polling.' Push polling, which is certainly unethical, though legal is the process by which a person (usually either a known activist, a consistent voter or a member of some identifiable 'swing' group) is called and asked to participate in a short 'poll.' It usually takes about twenty minutes, and at first the person is asked a number of questions that relate to a particular race. Then at the end of the push poll, they are asked some 'questions' that are very damaging to one of the candidates (i.e. 'would you be more or less likely to vote for candidate X if you knew....')
There are several reasons for these polls. One is to gauge the relative strength of candidates as perceived by voters, through 'test' marketing negative messages, to actually bringing these smear tactics right into a voter's home via what sounds like an innocent 'poll.'. Sometimes it is to test the power of a negative message (this being the reason why sometimes known activists, such as myself, are called-- they figure if something will weaken our faith in the candidate then it will certainly score points with marginal or undecided voters.) Often many, many thousands of people are called, while in fact it is rare that any legitimate poll would ever need a sample size anywhere near this big. It is a new way to run a smear campaign, pure and simple.
And today, voters down in CD 8 have all been discussing push polls. It seems that a push poll targetting Patty Weiss, one of the two front runners for the Democratic nomination, was run, and at first the assumption was that it had been paid for by the campaign of Gabrille Giffords, the other front runner. But now, it appears to have been commissioned by the National Republican Congressional Committee. Why would the NRCC go to those lengths to influence a Democratic primary? Well, first they are apparently trying to cause a split in the ranks. Secondly, they obviously have a 'favorite' candidate (though we won't know yet whether it is Weiss or Giffords.)
I would like to tell you how to identify push polls. First of all, unlike a real sample, their objective is not randomness or accuracy, it is a campaign tool. As such, if they are targetting you, then they will call your household and ask for you by name. There is your difference. Push polls, in order to hit the most likely voters, or at least the most persuadable voters, start with a list of names first. A real poll would never do this.
Second, once someone has asked for you by name and it turns out to be a pollster, so that you know that it is a push-poll, pay very close attention and get the name of the polling organization that they represent. The law says that they have to provide this information. Then search for information on the company. For example, I got a push-poll call on the A.G. race, in which a company wanted to smear Terry Goddard. So when they identified themselves as 'FMA,' I went online. I found that 'FMA' is a Republican polling service based in Virgnia (Fabrizio, McLaughlin and Associates. And that is what to do. Learn who is sponsoring the poll, and then trace it back.