Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Mayoral Push Polling In RVA?

Push polling is a rather deceitful practice that is not so much about gather information as it is about shaping attitudes. Ten to twenty percent of either side of the political spectrum have their minds made up and no one can change them. The vast majority in the middle, however, can be swayed through information or through misrepresentation. Push polling goes after this segment by phrasing a question in such a way as to change your perception, rightly or wrongly, about an issue or candidate.

Ask a normal, thinking person if they believe gays should be fired or denied housing solely on their orientation and the answer will be 'no'. Ask that same person if gays should have 'special rights' and that answer might change. The issue hasn't changed but the person answering the question may think it has.

The most notorious example of push polling came in 2000 in South Carolina. Trailing after New Hampshire Bush's operatives were getting desperate. Suddenly people were getting phone calls where one of the questions was how they felt about McCain's illegitimate bi-racial child. Even though the allegations were false (he has an adopted child from India) the damage was done and we've been stuck with Bush for the last 8 years. Oddly, I think I would have been OK with McCain in 2000... Now he's a bit like leftovers that have been in the fridge longer than you can remember.

So, here I am, enjoying a nice glass of wine on a Sunday afternoon, watching TV and playing a little Civilization 4- Warlords Edition (Ragnar of the Vikings, Diety level, barely holding my own...) on my new MacBook when the phone rings. Would I like to take a political survey? Sure, I'd love to inject my opinions onto the national scene. Ooops, turns out it is local, for the mayoral race....

Suddenly I feel a bit unprepared. I'm well read on the issues of Battery Park, the shortcomings of the city's school system, and the failures of Doug Wilder but I would be hard pressed to tell you much of anything about any of the current candidates for mayor. While all politics may be local (thanks Tip O'Neil) the noise of the national race has pretty much drowned out the local one. Frankly, I was thinking about voting for Dwight Jones, solely on RVA Foodies recommendation, and, since I'm pretty sure there will be a run-off, paying attention to that campaign.

The questions start with your basic name recognition. OK, while I may not be up on the issues I am on the names. They're asking about three candidates: Jones, Pantele, Grey. Hey! Where's Goldman? Somehow I thought he was a contender. Hmmm...

After a number of general questions they start asking about specific issues. Crime (against it), education (for it), infrastructure (Hello! I live in Battery Park!). Then comes a number of questions about Pantele. Mostly vague questions concerning his stance on the issues. Phrased so vanilla that you can't not agree. Yes, better schools. More police. Less infighting between the mayor and city council.

This was getting long and dull (much like this post...). Not for long though. The questions started becoming a little more specific, and vicious. I'm not going to repeat them verbatim here for fear of misquoting but... For Pantele there were questions about being in Wilder's back pocket, questionable financial dealings, failure to fulfill promises and the like. For other candidates it was negatively phrased questions concerning clergy membership, conflict of interest business ties, and the favourite political slur in RVA - being a slumlord. I was feeling a bit like I was sitting in my new composter...

Finally, came the kicker. The closing and the statement that this survey was conducted and paid for by Friend of Pantele. Really? After some of the questions I was feeling like if I was in the same room I would want to kick him in the shins and there was no real way I would want to vote for him. If he really did finance this then he needs to fire his advisors.

But what if this was something else?

What if this was a push poll? Pantele came out poorly. Jones and Grey muddied. Goldman was never mentioned. Why? If you want to smear your opponents I guess you would want to distance yourself from accusations. I came away from the phone call thinking who would I vote for if not for those three. Then I thought who had the most to gain from the call....

It may not have been a push poll. If it was it may not have been financed by Goldman. What I did learn was that the mayor's race may get interesting after all. That, and I really need to start paying better attention to it.

3 comments:

RVA Foodie said...

I've heard that Robert Grey's office is behaving Wilder-esque. Now there's some tumultuous news:

http://www.inrich.com/cva/ric/news.apx.-content-articles-RTD-2008-09-08-0215.html

Robert Ullman said...

I've received two such calls, the most recent last Wednesday night. It said it was from the Grey campaign, so..I dunno. I know it took way too long, however, almost 20 minutes. Thankfully, all I missed on TV was Sarah Palin.

RVA Foodie said...

Look out. You don't want to get on Pantele's bad side. He used to go on patrol around the fan with a baseball bat to threaten tranny hookers. Let's hope this mayoral race isn't decided by desperate tactics.