A push poll is where, using the guise of opinion polling, disinformation about a candidate or issue is planted in the minds of those being 'surveyed'. Push-polls are designed to shape, rather than measure, public opinion.
In 2008, the Republican Jewish Coalition hired the New York-based political polling firm Central Research to "understand why Barack Obama continues to have a problem among Jewish voters."  Central Research had previously carried out push polls against the Democratic candidate for New York mayor in 2005  and the Democratic candidate in the 2002 South Dakota Senate race. 
The anti-Obama poll questions upset many of the hundreds of Jewish voters in Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey who received the calls. One question the pollsters asked is whether it would affect respondents' vote if they knew that Hamas' leader had "expressed support for Obama."  Some say it was a push poll, designed to spread negative information and disinformation. Others say the calls, with more than 80 questions, were too long to be push polls;  instead, they may be testing messages for future attack ads. 
During the 2000 presidential primary elections, Bush's campaign strategists, including Karl Rove, devised a push poll against John McCain. South Carolina voters were asked. "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?" They had no interest in the actual percentages in the poll, the goal was to spread misinformation about McCain. The claim was particularly vicious, since McCain was campaigning with his adopted Bangladeshi daughter. The sight of the little dark skinned girl made the seed planted earlier grow and John McCain lost South Carolina, effectively ending his run for the presidency. 
Salon.com reported on a push poll that was designed to remind voters which candiates were Jewish, or had high ranking Jewish campaign staff.
The idea of using polls to have a political impact was devised by Hans Haacke as a radical artistic exercise in 1969. This is Herbert Schiller's account of it in Culture Inc.:
- The corporate outreach to museums obviously is not intended to induce social instability in the political realm. Its objective is quite the opposite. Yet whether the crowds that now flow through museums – an estimated one billion passers-through in 1987 – come out of them more depoliticized than when they entered is unknowable. It will remain so unless – a frightening prospect – "exit polls," such as those taken outside voting booths, are introduced. Even then, some fairly detailed questions would be required to elicit useful information. Actually, Hans Haacke tried this technique in some of his gallery shows, first in 1969 and then, more successfully, in 1971 and 1972. He asked visitors to fill out lengthy questionnaires, tabulating the answers and making them available while the exhibit remained in place to newcomers and returning information-suppliers.
In 1970, Haacke asked visitors to a show that included his work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City to ballot on the question: "Would the fact that Governor Rockefeller has not denounced President Nixon's Indochina policy be a reason for you not to vote for him in November?" At the end of the twelve-week exhibition, the ballot boxes had registered the following results:
Haacke, not unexpectedly, has not had another show at MOMA.
-- Herbert I. Schiller, Culture Inc., Oxford UP 1989, pp. 96-97.
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Related SourceWatch articles
- Ben Smith, "GOP group behind negative Obama poll," Politico.com, September 16, 2008.
- Mike McIntire, "Mayoral Race Has Whodunit: The Anti-Ferrer Pollster Calls," New York Times, August 30, 2005.
- Josh Marshall, "Talking Points Memo," October 29, 2002.
- Jonathan Cohn, "I Just Got Push-Polled on Obama and Israel," The New Republic, September 15, 2008.
- David Kurtz, "Keeping the Smears Straight," Talking Points Memo, September 16, 2008
- Kathy Frankovic, "The Truth About Push Polls", CBSNews.com, February 14, 2000.
- Paula Gibbs, "Push Poll Callers Contacting Voters", Wiscasset Newspaper, September 12, 2002.
- "Public Opinion Strategies Push Poll", Mother Jones, May/June 1996.
- Daniel R. Morrow, "Karl Rove: Prince of Push Polling", The Potomac, December 17, 2003.
- Daniel Schulman, "Tales of a Push Pollster," Mother Jones, October 26, 2006: "What’s in the Swift Boat crowd’s bag of last-minute tricks? Nonstop robo-calls, for starters. Meet one of the nation’s top GOP telemarketers."