Push poll

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A push poll is a survey, often though not always conducted by telephone, consisting primarily of leading questions designed to change a listener's mind about an issue or candidate without actually admitting it; the data derived therefrom is generally irrelevant.

As a campaigning technique, it is considered dishonest, primarily because most push poll questions are of the "do you know whether he's stopped beating his wife?" type.


The first instance of a push poll was in a 1970 conceptual art piece by oddball artist Hans Haacke. The piece — set up in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and dubbed MoMa Poll — consisted of two plexiglass ballot boxes underneath the following statement:

Would the fact that Governor Rockefeller has not denounced President Nixon's Indochina policy be a reason for you not to vote for him in November?

Patrons were invited to place ballots into the box of their choice. At the end of the exhibition, there were twice as many "yes" votes as "no" votes.[1]

The first political push polls appeared in the 1980s. The pioneer was sleaze merchant Lee Atwater, who, in a 1980 race in South Carolina, used push polls to link Tom Turnipseed to the NAACP. In The South, this was enough to kill Turnipseed's chances.[2]


The most well-known examples of push polls were from the 2000 Republican primary. Karl Rove used a number of increasingly sleazy push polls to smear John McCain, the nastiest of which appeared during the South Carolina primary. Leveraging on the fact that the McCains had adopted a child from Bangladesh, someone began calling voters with the following question: "Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?" As predicted, McCain crashed and burned.[3]

In 2008, there was a similar effort to smear Barack Obama, this time aimed at Jewish voters. The push polls attempted to tie him to the PLO and Hamas. This time, it wasn't nearly as successful.[4]

In 2013, South Carolina was subject to yet another push polling operation. The target was Elizabeth Colbert Busch (Stephen's sister), candidate in a special congressional election. There were several iterations of the push poll, some of which implied that Busch had been imprisoned, had an abortion, or been charged with contempt during a divorce hearing.[5]

Life Giving Moments[edit]

In 2014-15, Life Giving Moments has operated a robocaller named "Amanda," who evades questions about her humanity, claiming to be "a live person, but ... using a computer for quality control purposes." When Amanda establishes contact with a credulous human, she takes a poll, in which she mentions the "impact of violent TV shows on children" and "how today's entertainment impacts children", and then directs them to the Life Giving Moments organization's website.[6] Amanda is used just to further Life Giving Moment's views that technology is hurting children today, without having to pay for an actual human.

Legal Status[edit]

In some states, push polls are illegal and can be punishable with prison time. In Maine, it is required for telephone polls to be registered with the political party in question. [7]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]