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COLUMN: Dirty push polling comes to Portage County

By Dan Kontos

Beware of the dirty push poll.

What is a push poll, you ask? Push polling is a fraudulent and dishonest negative campaigning practice, masquerading as an objective opinion poll, that is chock-full of misleading, biased, or flat-out false questions or statements designed to turn the listener against a particular candidate or position.

This discredited technique is designed to smear opponents by planting destructive inuendoes as they ask “questions.” However, unlike real polls, no information is actually collected, because it’s not really a poll.

Now, not all surveys that contain negative information are push polls. Sometimes candidates will conduct surveys with negative information just to test whether certain campaign messages or positions will be helpful to their campaign.

You certainly don’t see a lot of it here in Central Wisconsin, and certainly not regarding local candidates, but times are not normal. Dirty politics have taken a page from the power-hungry national campaigns, and are now using them here, and I don’t like it.

Begin disclaimer: I have no evidence to definitively claim that any of these candidates or their campaigns were directly involved or had knowledge of these, but you are obviously free to draw whatever inferences you wish. End disclaimer.

I frequently receive telephone calls that have pollsters on the other end. They ask all sorts of questions and depending on what mood I’m in, I give them all sorts of answers. I am admittedly kind of a scoundrel that way.

Recently I had a “pollster” call me purporting to be from some opinion inquiry firm. The caller didn’t speak English very well, and I couldn’t understand the name of the firm. Not surprisingly, when I asked her at the end what the polling firm’s name was again, she told me that she could not reveal that to me “in order to preserve the integrity of the poll.” That’s complete malarky.

Anyway, this call asked my opinions about candidates for the 71 st Assembly District, State Representative Katrina Shankland, and challenger Scott Soik in the first contested election for that seat since the 2012 election. I gave them my answers, and then some.

The questions turned from the usual how likely is it that you will vote, and who do you support, to some very disturbing questions. They asked if I was more or less likely to vote for Soik if I knew that he had a bad temper, if I knew the police had been called to a County Board meeting to arrest him for losing control, and other nasty and outrageous statements. It was the old when did you stop beating your wife nonsense.

After thoroughly trashing Soik, the questions focused on if I was more or less likely to vote for a Shankland if I knew that she was the hardest working person in the Assembly, if I knew she worked to save everyone each and every day, and if I knew she could walk on water.

Okay, okay, these weren’t the actual questions, but you get the idea. While none of the statements made were going to persuade me one way or the other, the dirty nature of the push poll was sure going to dissuade me from voting for the side of nasty politics. Guilty by implication? Perhaps, but this is where I ask the knee-jerk crowd, ‘how do you like it?

The truth is that I know Katrina, and actually had a nice conversation with her just a couple of days ago. I like her as a person. It’s true that she is an extremely hard-working member of the Assembly, but our politics rarely overlap. Why not just try and convince me that she is the one I should vote for without the nasty accusations?

Katrina did personally reach out to me after I complained to her in an email. In a subsequent phone call, she said she had heard of the push polls and received several complaints, but knew nothing about who was behind them. Ms. Shanklin told me that she does not condone the practice of push polls, and wished they weren’t used at all.

She never tried to dissuade me from writing my piece, but offered her comments for my consideration. I am including comments about our conversation to serve as a sort of public reputation of push polls, though I would have preferred a bigger public splash directly from her campaign (hint, hint). I appreciated the phone call.

It wasn’t 24 hours before I received another push poll with loaded questions trashing Senator Ron Johnson, and extolling the virtues of Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes. You can imagine the details. It was obvious that they were not interested in getting my opinion, just changing it. That’s dirty pool.

Do others do this as well? To be sure, but they haven’t done it to me. Besides, two wrongs don’t make a right.

Push polling is used by candidates or their surrogates (affiliated with the campaigns or not) who cannot stand on their accomplishments, cannot weather a debate of ideas, and cannot stand on common American principles. If they could, they would concentrate on their positives, not their opponents’ negatives. When you have little to offer, you tear down the other guy.

If candidates agree that push polling is nothing but dirty mudslinging, I urge them to join me in roundly and publicly condemning this practice. If not, I suppose you can infer that they don’t really care what unscrupulous acts are being conducted in their names, and that tells you all you need to know.

So, with that, let’s meet in the opinion section to talk about all of it, boldly, honestly, and with a healthy respect for each other. Beware of the push polls, and we’ll see you at the real polls in November. Until then, God bless.

Dan Kontos is a paid columnist for the Metro Wire who chooses his own topics. He lives with his family in Whiting. 

We are seeking a liberal columnist. Anyone with interest should email [email protected]