New Hampshire “Push Poll” Law Hurts Legitimate Research
The term “push poll” refers to a political advocacy telephone call designed to “push” a voter away from a particular candidate or issue and toward another – it bears no relation to a legitimate, scientific poll. A persuasion call under the guise of a poll is a particularly unethical and deceptive activity.
“Push poll” calls are usually 30-60 seconds in duration, ask only a few leading or misleading questions and are placed to many thousands of people. Legitimate research calls generally take at least a few minutes, ask carefully designed questions, collect demographic information and are placed to a small representative sample of a particular segment of the public. In short, “push polls” are designed solely to influence voters – sharing instead of collecting information, and shaping instead of analyzing opinion.
Serious polls can include “push” questions that contain explosive or even incorrect information, but such “message testing” is a legitimate survey research function. It is the study of how individuals react to positive or negative information on a candidate, elected official, or ballot proposition.
MRA and AAPC Position on “Push Polls”
The Marketing Research Association (MRA), the American Association of Political Consultants (AAPC) and the entire survey and opinion research profession, oppose the practice of “push polling” or similar deceptive persuasion calls. It is abusive to voters, candidates, parties, and organizations. More broadly, each such call abuses the research profession by giving recipients a misleading and negative view of what research is and how it works -- making them much less likely to participate in future research studies.
New Hampshire Law
New Hampshire statute Section 664:16-a requires “any person who engages in push-polling” to disclose the sponsor of the call to the recipient. The scope of the law would not be problematic for research, except that the definition of a “push poll” in Section 664:2 (XVII) is written so broadly as to incorporate bona fide survey and opinion research practices. While the intent of the law appears to have been to combat “push polls”, the scope also seems to include most any poll that asks about a candidate’s “character, status, or political stance or record”. This includes not only research calls testing negative messages, but also polls questioning voters’ opinions on relatively objective or verifiable issues and concerns.
Section 664 biases many legitimate political research calls in New Hampshire, distorting the results of research and making it impossible to accurately reflect the thoughts and opinions of New Hampshire residents. Disclosure of who paid for or commissioned a poll and their relationship to a political candidate or organization can distort the answers respondents provide to research questions.
Researchers go to great lengths to eliminate bias from all aspects of the research process, from the wording of questions to the accent of the interviewers. In most instances, the interviewer administering the questions is unaware who sponsored the research, or why. The bias that would result from such disclosure would make it extremely difficult to produce scientifically and statistically valid data.
MRA and AAPC urge New Hampshire to work with us in amending Section 664 to exclude legitimate research calls and better target “push polls”, in similar fashion to Louisiana RS 18:1463.1, which requires disclosure on advocacy calls, while explicitly protecting legitimate research calls. This will protect New Hampshire voters and the scientific research process.