Push polling is a technique that is used by political campaigns to influence the electorate's opinion under the guise of conducting a poll. (One side note, although generally contained to political campaign's in-house polls, push polling has at times been used in supposedly neutral media polling; CBS/New York Times polls have come close to using this in the past).

So how does it work? A telephone solicitor calls to inquire about a person's opinions on issues, but instead of asking them in an unbiased way, asks loaded questions.

For example there are three main ways to describe abortion -- the far right's (killing unborn children); the far left's politically correct (woman's right to choose); or just abortion. In a poll, the most neutral of these descriptions would probably be "abortion". So an even-handed question, that doesn't push a respondent any particular way, should be, "Do you support abortion?" If the question instead was, "Do you support killing unborn children?" the response of course would be radically different, as it's tough to get anyone who supports killing children. It also would be different if the question is, "Do you support a woman's right to choose?" This question makes no mention about abortion itself, and generally gets more support than if the question had mentioned abortion by name.

After the polling is completed, then a political candidate or party hack usually goes on TV and says, "Look how people feel about abortion!" Then (as sad as this sounds but academically researched studies have proven) a TV viewer at home thinks, well if all those people support/oppose abortion then it seems reasonable to me. But the problem was the term abortion was never mentioned in the question, but the study and news reports after it give the impression that it was.

Finally, there is another type of push polling. This different model is less refined in the way it distorts the truth.

Imagine there is a campaign between James Smith and David Johnson going on in your state. A solicitor affiliated with James Smith calls and asks for you to take part in the poll, never identifying that he is being paid by the Smith campaign. He then asks questions like, "Do you support higher taxes for working families?" The answer nearly all the time is no. Then after 20 more questions (in order not to make it look obvious) asks something like, "Did you know that David Johnson supports higher taxes? In that case do you support James Smith or David Johnson in the up-coming election?" Here the answer they will usually get is James Smith. This accomplishes two things, first it pollutes Johnson's name in the voter's mind and it also allows the Smith campaign to release a poll showing a lot of support from the electorate. Undecided voters then, may become swayed to vote for Smith, as it's been shown that on election day undecideds usually vote for the candidates they think will win. Because everybody wants to pick/be with a winner.

Well, 2008 is just around the corner and as it stands right now it looks as if both the Democrats and Republicans are having a hard time trying to decide just who their respective candidates for the presidency will be.

On the Democratic side of the aisle, as it stands right now, you have the three heavy hitters. They are, in no particular order, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. Trailing them are long shots Joe Biden and Bill Richardson and even further away in the electoral stratosphere is one Dennis Kucinich.

The Republicans so far have offered up Mitt Romney, Rudolph Giuliani and the surprising Mike Huckabee as their leading contenders. Trailing behind on their coattails are the likes of John McCain and Fred Thompson and even further back in the pack but not yet out of it is Ron Paul.

Since the Iowa Caucuses are fast approaching some of these candidates (from both sides of the aisle), are willing to stop at nothing in their efforts to lure a voter from one person to get them to adopt their point of view. One of the more seedier tactics that have come to light over during the last few election cycles is a phenomena known as push polling.

Picture this. There you are, living in Des Moines, Iowa, sitting down to a nice dinner after having slaved away at whatever people do for a living in Des Moines when the telephone rings. A friendly voice on the other side informs you that you have been selected to take part in a poll that might very well prove instrumental in choosing the next leader of the country. As a concerned citizen, you feel it is your duty to take part in something that might have national import and agree to answer the pollster’s questions.

They usually start out innocuous at first and your answers seem pretty cut and dried. Here’s an example:

"Do you favor gun control?"

That’s a pretty straightforward question. Most Americans have strong opinions on either side of the equation when it comes to the Second Amendment and for the most part would answer either yes or no.

But, when it comes to push polling, the follow up question might be worded as such…

”Would you vote for candidate XYZ if he or she was in favor of banning guns and if not, would you vote for candidate ABC?”

See the how the topic has shifted? Depending on your answer there’s a subtle inference that candidate XYZ is either somehow better or worse than candidate ABC. Consider it a little form of psychological warfare designed to paint one candidate in a better light than another.

In most polls, there is usually a very small control or representative group of individuals who will be questioned. They are carefully chosen and the answers they provide are catalogued and analyzed.

When a push poll is conducted, the number of respondents is quite large. This is because the goal isn’t so much as to gather data and to spot trends than it is to get the word out about a certain candidate. Some analysts have equated the practice to that of political telemarketing or other forms of mass marketing.

Probably the most famous instance of push polling goes back to the year 2000. Then future President George W. Bush was running a pretty tight race against fellow Republican Senator John McCain. It looked as if it could go either way but voters in the South Carolina primary reportedly were contacted a few days before they were scheduled to go to the polls and asked the following question:

"Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for John McCain for president if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?"

Let’s combine that question with the fact that Mr. McCain and his wife, both white, had adopted a young girl from Bangladesh and you can picture the mental image many potential voters might have had towards Mr. McCain if they hadn’t bothered to do their homework.

Believe me folks, I’m not singling out one party or another. I’m sure members of both major political parties or their representatives have been involved in some nefarious practices somewhere during their career.

It just goes to show, politics is a dirty business and some people will stop at nothing to get themselves in power. But not to worry, if the status quo remains what it is, it won't be long before you start seeing and hearing attack ads on radio and television.

Ain't politics grand?

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