Push polling is a technique that is used by political campaigns to influence the electorate
under the guise
of conducting a poll
. (One side note, although generally contained to political campaign's in-house polls, push polling has at times been used in supposedly neutral media polling; CBS
/New York Times
polls have come close to using this in the past).
So how does it work? A telephone solicitor calls to inquire about a person's opinions on issues, but instead of asking them in an unbiased way, asks loaded questions.
For example there are three main ways to describe abortion -- the far right's (killing unborn children); the far left's politically correct (woman's right to choose); or just abortion. In a poll, the most neutral of these descriptions would probably be "abortion". So an even-handed question, that doesn't push a respondent any particular way, should be, "Do you support abortion?" If the question instead was, "Do you support killing unborn children?" the response of course would be radically different, as it's tough to get anyone who supports killing children. It also would be different if the question is, "Do you support a woman's right to choose?" This question makes no mention about abortion itself, and generally gets more support than if the question had mentioned abortion by name.
After the polling is completed, then a political candidate or party hack usually goes on TV and says, "Look how people feel about abortion!" Then (as sad as this sounds but academically researched studies have proven) a TV viewer at home thinks, well if all those people support/oppose abortion then it seems reasonable to me. But the problem was the term abortion was never mentioned in the question, but the study and news reports after it give the impression that it was.
Finally, there is another type of push polling. This different model is less refined in the way it distorts the truth.
Imagine there is a campaign between James Smith and David Johnson going on in your state. A solicitor affiliated with James Smith calls and asks for you to take part in the poll, never identifying that he is being paid by the Smith campaign. He then asks questions like, "Do you support higher taxes for working families?" The answer nearly all the time is no. Then after 20 more questions (in order not to make it look obvious) asks something like, "Did you know that David Johnson supports higher taxes? In that case do you support James Smith or David Johnson in the up-coming election?" Here the answer they will usually get is James Smith. This accomplishes two things, first it pollutes Johnson's name in the voter's mind and it also allows the Smith campaign to release a poll showing a lot of support from the electorate. Undecided voters then, may become swayed to vote for Smith, as it's been shown that on election day undecideds usually vote for the candidates they think will win. Because everybody wants to pick/be with a winner.