A friend of mine got an email “poll” announcement from the Republican National Committee. This is a “push” poll — an attempt to conduct politics using the poll as a cover. I’ll explain why no legitimate political party should ever do this.
Here’s what the email looked like:
And if you scroll all the way down, you see this:
After I submitted a result, this text message appeared:
When is a poll not a poll?
The Republican National Committee has every right to send emails to its supporters, as does any other political party. Putting aside the silly emojis at the top, which don’t belong in serious communications, this email does some things that shouldn’t be included in the activities of a legitimate political party. In particular:
- While a party has the right to object to a particular news article and, conceivably, to a publication, I don’t think parties should be undermining the idea of news in general. By using the general term “Fake News Media,” this email implies that you can’t trust any media, and that’s dangerous in a free democracy.
- The “poll” is not a poll. Pollsters and survey creators know that you must carefully balance questions to eliminate bias. With three positive answers and no negative ones, this so-called poll is designed to be biased.
- No matter what you click on (any of the answers, “Take the Poll,” or the underlined blue link), you get to the poll page. You’re not actually voting until you get there.
- Once you vote, you get pestered for a donation and they start to send you text messages.
- I have seen no evidence that the RNC ever publishes the results of this survey or any others that it collects. All the poll results published on its page are from legitimate pollsters, such as Washington-Post ABC News.
The American Association on Public Opinion Research, describes this sort of activity as a “push” poll. Here’s what they say about push polls:
AAPOR Statements on “Push” Polls
The problem of so-called “push polls”
When advocacy calls are made under the guise of research
This statement from AAPOR explains how to tell the difference between fraudulent political polls—commonly referred to as “push polls”—and legitimate polling, including message testing. AAPOR condemns political telemarketing under the guise of research and is committed to providing information that explains what this unethical campaign practice is and what you can do about it.
A “Push Poll” is Not a Legitimate Poll
A so-called “push poll” is an insidious form of negative campaigning, disguised as a political poll. “Push polls” are not surveys at all, but rather unethical political telemarketing — telephone calls disguised as research that aim to persuade large numbers of voters and affect election outcomes, rather than measure opinions. This misuse of the survey method exploits the trust people have in research organizations and violates the AAPOR Code of Professional Ethics and Practices. . . .
The Threats of Fraudulent Political Calls (Political Telemarketing Under the Guise of Research)
Political advocacy calls made under the guise of a survey abuse the public’s trust. They gain the attention of respondents under false pretenses by taking advantage of the good will people have toward legitimate research.
When disguised as research, these calls create negative images of legitimate surveys, especially when they distort issues or candidate characteristics in order to influence opinion.
They go beyond the ethical boundaries of political polling by bombarding voters with distorted or even false statements in an effort to manufacture negative attitudes.
The hostility created in this way affects legitimate surveys by reducing the public’s willingness to cooperate with future survey requests. . . .
The AAPOR Code identifies fraudulent political polling as unethical conduct. The Code states: “We will not misrepresent our research or conduct other activities (such as sales, fundraising, or political campaigning) under the guise of conducting research” [section I.A.2, emphasis added].
Language matters. Terms have meaning. We undermine them at our own risk.
You might wonder why, with all the outrageous activities of political parties and candidates of all types, I would concentrate on something as minor as this little marketing email from the GOP.
The terms “media” and “poll” have meaning, and that meaning includes at least an effort to be unbiased and deliver actual truth and research. All of us who conduct research start with those ideals. While we have opinions, we try not to let those opinions color the research we do.
When you call this email a poll, you are undermining trust in that research. I would feel the same way if the email were from the Democratic or Libertarian or parties. I can’t stop people from calling this a poll, but those people should not include representatives of a legitimate political party. Every email the Republicans or Democrats send out represents who they are, this one included, and this one says, “You can’t trust media and polls are fake.”
I’d love to hear your opinion on this. If you are a Republican, do you agree that this is wrong? If you are a Democrat, would you have a similar objection if a sham poll like this came out from the Democratic National Committee?
I invite your comments, but to be clear, I will delete comments about that object to the political positions of Trump and Republicans, or “whataboutism” that attempts to justify this activity because of Hillary Clinton’s emails or something else off-topic. This is about words, truth, and research. I look forward to your perspective.