On May 23, 1996 the American Association of Political Consultants (AAPC) received a letter signed by thirty-one of the nation's top public opinion pollsters condemning the increasingly common practice of "push-polling," where phone calls aimed at voter persuasion are dishonestly presented as surveys of public opinion. The AAPC board joined the pollsters in condemning this practice as a clear violation of the AAPC's Code of Ethics and a degradation of the political process.
The AAPC's Ethics Committee addressed this issue in December of 1995, agreeing unanimously that so-called "push-polls" violate the AAPC's stricture against "any activity which would corrupt or degrade the practice of political campaigning." To the extent that practitioners of the "push-poll" ruse convey inaccurate information about an election opponent, they also violate the AAPC's stricture against false and misleading attacks.
The AAPC board notes that so-called "push-polls" are not really polls at all. In their letter, the bipartisan group of survey researchers drew the distinction correctly, as follows:
- Legitimate polling firms open each interview by providing the true name of the firm or the telephone research center conducting the interview. Practitioners of so-called "push-polling" generally provide no name, or in some cases make up a name.
- In a true opinion survey, research firms interview on a small random sample of the population to be studied, typically ranging from up to a thousand interviews for a major statewide study to as few as 300 in a congressional district. With so-called "push-polls," the objective is to reach a very high percentage of the voters.
- The interviews conducted by real polling firms generally range in length from at least five minutes for even the shortest of tracking questionnaires to more than 30 minutes for a major benchmark study. So-called "push-poll" interviews are typically designed to last 30 to 60 seconds.
- While real pollsters do sometimes give interviewees new information about a candidate, the intent of this process is not to shift public opinion but to simulate potential campaign debate and to asses how the voter might respond. So-called "push-polls" are designed specifically to persuade.
- To our knowledge, there is no overlap whatsoever between legitimate polling firms and firms that conduct so-called "push polls."
The AAPC Board urges the news media and the public to take note of these distinctions and to refrain from characterizing persuasion or advocacy phone calling as "polling." These two campaign services are totally different and should not be confused with each other.
The AAPC acknowledges, of course, that voter persuasion by telephone is a perfectly legitimate campaign practice. What we condemn is advocacy phone calling that:
- Masquerades as survey research;
- Fails to clearly and accurately identify the sponsor of the call; or
- Presents false or misleading information to the voter.