| How the sausage is made|
“”…there is a real difference between actually believing a thing and saying you believe a thing.
|—Philip Bump on polling results|
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:
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.
The first political push polls appeared in the 1980s. The pioneer was sleaze merchant Lee Atwater, who, in a 1980 Senate race in South Carolina, used push polls to link Democrat Tom Turnipseed to the NAACP. In The South, this was quite enough to kill Turnipseed's chances, even given that it was a year for Reagan Republicans.
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.
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.
Life Giving Moments
In 2014-15, an organization named Life Giving Moments operated a robocaller named "Amanda," who evaded questions about her humanity, claiming to be "a live person, but … using a computer for quality control purposes." When Amanda established contact with a credulous human, 'she' took 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. Amanda is used just to further Life Giving Moments' views that technology is hurting children today, without having to pay for an actual human.
Donald Trump's "media accountability" survey
Although many observers thought it was a parody, the Trump campaign really did sponsor a hilariously slanted "media accountability" survey for its supporters. Questions included gems like:
- On which issues does the mainstream media do the worst job of representing President Trump?
- Do you feel that the media is too eager to slur conservatives with baseless accusations of racism and sexism?
- Do you believe that the media sensationalizes and exaggerates stories in order to paint President Trump and conservatives in a bad light?
- Based on your answers above, do you believe that the Republican Party should spend more time and resources holding the mainstream media accountable?
- Do you believe the media is biased when it covers President Trump’s restriction on immigration from countries compromised by radical Islamic terrorism?
- Conspiracy theories are common on the right — but few Republicans adhere to all of them by Philip Bump (July 19, 2021) The Washington Post.
- Hans Haacke MOMA Poll (1970) by Graham Budgett, University of California Santa Barbara (archived from August 23, 2003).
- Lee Atwater's Legacy by Antonino D’Ambrosio (October 8, 2008) The Nation.
- The Anatomy of a Smear by Richard H. Davis (March 21, 2004) Boston Globe.
- I Just Got Push-polled On Obama And Israel by Jonathan Cohn (September 14, 2008) The New Republic.
- Dirty Tricks: Mysterious Conservative Group Sending Out Push Polls In South Carolina Special Election by Scott Keyes & Adam Peck (May 1, 2013 at 9:07 am) Think Progress.
- Life Giving Moments (archived from March 13, 2014).
- Amanda, The Computerized Telemarketer Who Insisted She Was Human Museum Fatigue.
- Mainstream Media Accountability Survey. Donald J. Trump Campaign. Archived.
- Push Polling by Jennifer Gelb (August 17, 2004) OLR Research Report, Connecticut General Assembly.