The only problem is, by the description in the article, it doesn't look like push polling at all. First a critical definition: push polling, which ma
February 3, 2008

The only problem is, by the description in the article, it doesn't look like push polling at all.

First a critical definition: push polling, which many of us are familiar with term after the hit job done on John McCain in South Carolina appears to the receiver to be "issues polling", but usually last just a few minutes, because the goal is to simply plant negative information against a candidate and move on.

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 impacting 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.

So Andrew Malcolm in the LA Times' political blog Top of the Ticket gives this little tidbit:

Ed Coghlan was just starting to prepare his dinner in the northern San Fernando Valley the other night when the phone rang. The caller was very friendly. He identified himself as a pollster who wanted to ask registered independents like Coghlan a few questions about the presidential race and all the candidates for Super Tuesday's California primary.

Ed, who's a former news director for a local TV station, was curious. He said, "Sure, go ahead."

But a few minutes into the conversation Ed says he noticed a strange pattern developing to the questions. First of all, the "pollster" was only asking about four candidates, three Democrats -- Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, who was still in the race at the time -- and one Republican -- John McCain.

Also, every question about Clinton was curiously positive, Coghlan recalls. The caller said things like, if you knew that Sen. Clinton believed the country had a serious home mortgage problem and had made proposals to freeze mortgage rates and save families from foreclosure, would you be more likely or less likely to vote for her?

Ed said, of course, more likely.

Every question about the other candidates was negative. If Ed knew, for instance, that as a state senator Obama had voted "present" 43 times instead of taking a yes or no stand "for what he believed," would Ed be more or less likely to vote for him?

"That's when I caught on," said Coghlan. He realized then that he was being push-polled. That malicious political virus that is designed not to elicit answers but to spread positive information about one candidate and negative information about all others under the guise of an honest poll had arrived in Southern California within days of the important election.

It could become an issue in the closing hours of the campaign.

Someone who obviously favors Hillary Clinton is paying an unidentified company to spread this material phone call by phone call among independent voters, who can, according to California party rules, opt to vote in the Democratic but not the Republican primary on Feb. 5, when nearly two dozen states will choose a large chunk of the delegates to the parties' national conventions next summer.

Coghlan said he was offended by such underhanded tactics and knew he was going to get out a warning about this dirty trick, but he said he played along for the full 20-minute "poll."

Catch that? The full 20-minute poll? And the poll taker asked about several candidates, not just planted negative information on a candidate and move on, including asking for Coghlan's take on the last debate.

That last bit of information tells me that this call was almost certainly a message testing survey, and not a so-called "push poll." California has over 15 million registered voters, and roughly three million of those are independents. If "someone" was paying "to spread this material phone call by phone call among independent voters," would they really spend 20 minutes on the telephone with each one?

Not likely.

The call that Coghlan describes sounds more like a message testing survey that included many negative messages about Clinton's opponents. In other words, someone called a random sample of voters with the intent to "elicit answers," or more specifically reactions, to negative messages that the Clinton campaign or an allied group considered airing in California.

But wait, there's more. Ed Coghlan, the helpful citizen that alerted Andrew Malcolm of this supposed push polling is described as a former news director. But a simple Google search tells you that Ed is the former news director of KCOP, LA's FOX affiliate. And writer Andrew Malcolm? Why, he's the former Press Secretary for Laura Bush. Perhaps you can infer motives from them from that information as easily as Malcolm implies in his final paragraph:

Phil Singer, the spokesman for the Clinton campaign. was contacted by e-mail last night. He answered that he was there. He was asked if the Clinton campaign was behind the push-poll, knew who was behind it or had any other information on it. That was at 5:27 p.m. Pacific time Saturday. As of this item's posting time, exactly eight hours later, no reply had been received.

Wow. Right before Super Tuesday with campaigning in high gear and a Saturday evening to boot, the spokesman didn't get back to Malcolm. What a shocker. Don't get me wrong, I have had a lot of problems with Clinton's tactical approach throughout this campaign, but I don't like dishonesty and what looks like a perfectly Rovian hit piece in the Times right before the primary either.

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