How an automated canvas is made to sound like a poll
This week the excellent Pollster.com site in the US carried this video of what was purported to be a survey from a pollster but was probably what is known as “push polling”.
This is defined by Wikipedia as “…a political campaign technique in which an individual or organization attempts to influence or alter the view of respondents under the guise of conducting a poll. In a push poll, large numbers of respondents are contacted, and little or no effort is made to collect and analyze response data. Instead, the push poll is a form of telemarketing-based propaganda and rumor mongering, masquerading as a poll.”
It was alleged that in the battle to win the 2000 GOP nomination that the Bush campaign adopted a similar approach. In the primary that turned out to be crucial for John McCain, South Carolina , thousands of voters were alleged to have received similar calls asking “Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for John McCain for president if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?” McCain and his wife have in fact adopted a Bangladeshi girl.
What’s fascinating about the Pollster video is that the recipient managed to record most of the conversation as it was taking place.
Has it happened in the UK? Well there are many instances of local parties using surveys as a mean of getting a message across. What’s different about the US example is that automated phoning is using allowing tens of thousands of people to be reached quickly and easily.
Will it happen here? Almost certainly. Politics is about power and many participants will got to almost any length to succeed.