When is a “push poll” not a “push poll”?
Two major political candidates are saying their campaigns are victims of push polls.
The tools available for politicians include an arsenal of the negative.
There are many ways to attack your opponent, ranging from calling the person a cad, to making it appear that the entire state is on the verge of being pillaged by your enemy’s family.
Back in May, former Gov. Ben Cayetano said his campaign was the victim of a poll asking questions not intended to get information but rather to hurt his campaign for Honolulu mayor.
The poll was launched the week after Pacific Resource Partnership unleashed a vicious and misleading commercial against Cayetano.
“We know they (PRP) have been behind an attempt to smear us,” Cayetano said at the time.
PRP declined to comment on those allegations.
Now Mufi Hannemann says he has been fouled by what he says is a push poll.
“Because the questions tend to be skewed toward the negative and are full of half-truths, this seemingly innocent poll is, in fact, ‘pushing’ respondents toward a negative opinion of the candidate in question,” Hannemann said in a release.
He’s right about the questions being used to survey for negative aspects of a candidate, but there is more to it.
Hannemann said some of the questions surveyed included: “Is Mufi too much of an ambitious politician?”
“Does Mufi promise anything to get elected?” and “Would it affect your decision if Mufi took too much credit for saving the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, which was due to Sen. Inouye and not Mufi?”
Hannemann was as upset as Cayetano about the supposed poll.
In an email to supporters, Hannemann’s campaign manger, Justin Gruenstein, decried the tactic.
“‘Push polls’ are a deceptive campaign strategy operating under the guise of objective, legitimate polling. In fact, their intention is solely to create doubt and negative impressions of one or more candidates through skewed questioning and outright falsehoods, but their results are then released publicly as unbiased.”
Jim McCoy, a spokesman for the campaign of Councilwoman Tulsi Gabbard, who is running against Hannemann and others in the 2nd Congressional District Democratic primary, said the Gabbard campaign does not use push polling.
But there is a difference between push polls and just exploring what the public is willing to believe about your opponent.
Mark Blumenthal, editor and publisher of Pollster.com, the best source of real information about polling, says that “the important thing to remember is that a ‘push poll’ is not a poll at all. It’s a fraud, an attempt to disseminate information under the guise of a legitimate survey.”
If a push poll is just a high-tech, automated way to “talk stink” about your opponent, then what is being launched against Cayetano and Hannemann?
Blumenthal explains that “just about every campaign pollster, Democrat and Republican, uses surveys to test negatives messages.”
If it is a real push poll, then the sponsor will not waste time asking the usual demographic questions or any other questions. Instead, the pollster will ask that if you knew something vile about Candidate X, would that make you change your vote? The object is to get the smear out to as many people as possible — it is nasty campaigning and is usually reserved for the last days of a desperate campaign.
Negative campaigning is a staple of American politics, employed by all candidates in one form or another. So candidates take polls to find out what really works against their opponent.
If you see ads attacking Hannemann for “promising anything to get elected,” you could assume that the commercial grew from research done with the poll that Hannemann condemned.
The days of Mario Cuomo’s dictum that you “campaign in poetry” are over. Today the campaign is built with carefully researched, field-tested mud.