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A push poll is a crafty marketing technique which pretends to be a poll in the hopes of influencing opinion, essentially pushing people into a desired mindset. Push polls are opposed by many professional polling and political organizations since they are disingenuous and potentially very dangerous. They are classically used in close political campaigns or to fight proposed ballot measures and legislation. There are a number of ways to identify a push poll, and you should learn how to spot one so that you can evaluate the experience of a poll and determine whether or not it was legitimate.
In the case of a political push poll, the “polling” agency calls thousands of homes and asks voters a series of brief questions which tend to be framed in a very negative way. These questions sometimes contain obvious misinformation, but they plant the seeds of doubt in voters minds. For example, a push poller might ask “Would you be less likely to vote for candidate Y if you knew that he was gay?” At the end of the “poll,” the voter has internalized the content of the brief survey, and this may influence the voter when he or she votes, endorses candidates, or talks about political issues.
There are a number of different types of push polls. The most benign is merely designed to get people thinking about an issue, while more aggressive polls smear opposing candidates or points of view. The questions used in push polling are often very leading, and sometimes circuitous, because they are designed to subtly disseminate misinformation.
The first sign that you are being involved in a push poll is the length of conversation you have with the alleged pollster. If a political poll takes around twenty minutes or more, it is probably a legitimate poll. It might even contain some negatively framed questions, but the questions will usually be repeated for each candidate or issue as part of research tool to learn more about voter opinions. The pollster in a push poll will also often fail to ask for demographic information, which is a key part of any real poll. In addition, push polling agencies rarely identify themselves or the campaigns they work with.
Because push polling is frowned upon by most of the political community, political campaigns are usually careful to distance themselves from push polling. These “polls” are often funded by groups which support a particular candidate, allowing the candidate to claim no knowledge of the poll. They are administered by companies which specialize in telemarketing, since push polling is simply one form of telemarketing.