Weak Poll

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Oct. 30 2006 6:08 PM

Weak Poll

These new push polls are really lame.

Help, I've been push polled and I can't get up! During this final week before Election Day, the usual hue and cry has been raised about automated phone calls interrupting the dinner hour. The robotic voices ask questions as if they're conducting a genuine political survey but then deliver talking points favorable to the Republican candidate. (Democrats are no doubt using similar tactics but haven't been caught doing it as flagrantly yet.)

Push polling uses the objective, scientific language of regular polling to trick voters. If done well, a voter thinks the information contained in a question is a nonpartisan fact when it is any thing but. Good push polling is deeply insidious. But the bad push polling that's going on right now is more pathetic than sinister. As any smart trick-or-treater knows, your mask has to look real to scare anyone. I listened to a recording of one of the calls by Common Sense Tennessee to help out Bob Corker's senate campaign: It was laughably bad and devoid of authority. Political attacks don't have to be sophisticated to be powerful, but there's nothing in the execution or the message of this poll that achieves anything approaching political art. Anyone capable of seeing through the claims of a late-night infomercial won't be swayed.

John Dickerson John Dickerson

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

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What surprises me is that at least one person involved in the process should know better. Nathan Estruth, who is listed as a spokesman for Common Sense 2006, boasts on his Web site that he has been with Procter & Gamble for 15 years and is now general manager of new business development. Procter & Gamble built a multibillion-dollar business making people buy things they don't need. But none of that skill is evident in the poll call in the Tennessee, Maryland, or Montana Senate campaigns. Common Sense's polls deliver standard-issue claims on abortion and tax cuts—there's nothing like the muck Bush supporters spread about John McCain in South Carolina in 2000. A whisper campaign is meaningless if what you're whispering is banal.


Would you prefer to have your taxes not raised and, if possible, cut?

Fact: Bob Corker is committed to making the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 permanent.

Fact: Harold Ford has voted to raise taxes more than 78 times during his 10 years in Washington and voted against extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts.

Do you believe that foreign terrorists should have the same legal rights and privileges as American citizens?

Fact: Harold Ford Jr. voted against the recommendations of the 9/11 commission and voted against the Patriot Act, which treats terrorists as terrorists.

Bob Corker supports renewal of the Patriot Act and how it would treat terrorists.

On the question of abortion: Do you consider yourself to be pro-life?