Push Polling

Push Polling


This afternoon while working with Suki on the first Act of “All The Rage” the home phone rang and I ran to get it. Our landline (well at least our Ethernet land line) gets almost entirely robo calls but the number was local so I grabbed it. A man launched in to his written spiel. (I’m using quotes but this is very much an approximation of what was said) “As you might know, the federal government has proposed opening up the coastal waters off of North Carolina to drilling. This promises to bring a great deal of work and economic activity to the local communities. I am conducting a poll for the citizens energy committee regarding the benefits of this project. Are you in favor of oil exploration that will bring benefits like jobs and a boost to the local economy?”

“That’s not a poll, that’s a push poll,” I replied. He didn’t say anything in response and I wasn’t even sure that he knew what he was involved with so I launched into a calm but focused explanation as to why what he was doing was wrong on countless levels. When I told him that it was clear that citizens weren’t paying for this poll he didn’t hesitate to tell that this was correct. “That’s correct sir, The America Petroleum Producers are funding this poll.”

“Who the hell are the citizens energy committee? You see, that’s not a poll, it’s propaganda. You tell people why something is good and then ask them if they think it’s good.” He indicated neither assent nor dissent, but just patiently listened as I continued to point out how Orwellian the name citizens energy committee was since there weren’t any citizens involved. I asked if anyone else had questioned the nature of the poll. “No, they just either say they’re for it or against it. You’re the first person to say something about this.” In the end he let me know that he had to get back to work. I did as well.

We dealt with a lot of push polls during our making of “Battle for Brooklyn”. We’d get calls in which the “pollster” would say something about doing a poll regarding a development in Brooklyn. They would list the “benefits” of the project like jobs, housing, and economic activity. I don’t think they really publish the results, instead it’s a way to get someone on the phone and tell them why a project is such a good thing. Oddly, at the same time we agreed to be respondents to the gallup poll, the one that is always used to gauge the country’s mood about the president or other big political issues. They don’t really make money from doing that poll. Instead the prospect of being a part of it lures people into agreeing to a part of their “panel”. Then they do all kinds of other market research and modified product push polls. I quit after just a few rounds.

At the time that I got the call today we were talking about the idea of science and data. Working through an interview that we did with Dr. Dennis Turk in which he was explaining why no government agency could get behind something like what Dr. Sarno was teaching because there no double blind studies to back it up. He talked further about how malleable these studies are, but that data was necessary nonetheless. We want to believe in data because we want truth with a “T”. Unfortunately the human condition is complex. Finding a balance between understanding and “truth” is hard, but it is possible, I think. It’s important to remember though that almost all conversation, or scientific data, is presented as an argument.

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