Posted: 09/15/08 11:56
by Dave Mindeman
I had a call from Provo, Utah last night and I am going to tell you about that call and some subsequent conversations I had regarding it.
We have a contested House race in this Minnesota Legislative House district -- 37A, Apple Valley and Burnsville. Democrat Shelley Madore currently holds that seat, but she won in 2006 by a very narrow margin (about 400 votes). Thus it would be assumed she is targeted by the GOP House caucus. Her opponent is a young (20 something), GOP House staffer running for the first time, named Tara Mack.
This call was about that race. The first question was: "Could I speak to the oldest female voter in the household?" That would be my wife -- she got on the phone and I listened in.
First there were some demographic questions and some short opinions on President and Senate candidates...but that was obviously not the focus of the call because the rest of it was all about House District 37A.
This call came from Western Watts in Provo, Utah. They provide the manpower to make these calls, but the script is furnished by The Tarrance Group out of Arlington, Virginia. The Tarrance Group has roughly 80 political clients -- all of them Republican and one of them is the Republican Party of Minnesota.
The questions began this way:
"We would like you to tell us if the following statements about a candidate would make you more likely or less likely to vote for that candidate."
A couple of statements followed about Tara Mack:
1) Tara Mack works for the legislature and will be ready to serve the district on day one.
2) Tara Mack is a fiscal conservative and will work hard to lower taxes and decrease spending.
Then they abruptly shifted to larger series of statements about Shelley Madore:
(1) Shelley Madore voted to give Minneapolis schools $4500 per pupil in additional funding. That's 53% higher funding than schools in this district.
(2) Shelley Madore voted for a bill that allows convicted sex offenders and those convicted of other serious crimes to work in child care centers or nursing homes.
(3) Shelley Madore voted to increase welfare spending by over $1 billion while not voting to control waste, fraud and abuse.
(4) While facing a billion dollar deficit in 2009(?), Shelley Madore voted for $400,000 for a Brass Band Sheet Music Museum in Southeast Minnesota.
(5) Shelley Madore voted to increase state income taxes by $780 million.
(6) Shelley Madore voted to not allow any new construction of nuclear power plants in the State of Minnesota that would reduce energy costs.
(7) Shelley Madore voted for $170 million in pork barrell spending rather than fixing roads.
Notice how they always include the name of the candidate in each statement. And after each of these statements the "survey worker" would ask, "Does that statement make you more likely or less likely to vote for that candidate?"
Well, I guess to the average uninformed voter the answer would get a little obvious. All the statements have a factual premise buried in them, but they only state them in the worst possible negative way.
My wife and I kept this person on the phone. She actually was a very pleasant individual and tried to answer our questions -- truthfully I think. She was just reading a script -- she pronounced Shelley's name as "Shelley Matadore". She indicated that she thought this type of survey was being done in 4 Minnesota House Districts. When she couldn't answer the questions anymore she said, "Would you like to talk to my supervisor?". We said yes and were given to Ryan Retzlaff. He appeared to be cooperative, but said client information was confidential. We asked if he would send us the script of the survey via e-mail. Strangely enough, he said he would, however that did not happen (I would have been shocked if it came). We asked who was his immediate superior and he gave us the phone number of a Robert Macabee who also works for Western Watts.
I called that number and was connected directly to Mr. Macabee. He answered questions but was clear that he could not divulge anything about his clients. The Tarrance group is one of a number of data collectors that Western Watts works for.
I asked Mr. Macabee to define push polling. He told me that he considers push polling a large series of calls about one issue regarding a specific candidate ...usually negative...that are meant to be persuasive in nature. I asked him if they are illegal and he said that they are in some states. I described the call we received and asked him if that was a push poll. He said, "absolutely not. What we do here is called Message Testing". The surveyors ask a sampling of voters in an area to give their opinion on statements to test how a message is responded to. Our company has nothing to do with script that is given to us. We merely make the calls and disseminate the script. The number of calls would be much smaller than those of a push poll. And he reiterated, "We do not do push polls."
I think it is a little disingenuous to call that message testing. Those statements are clearly meant to form a negative opinion in the mind of the receiving party. If the "message" test response was anything other than negative, the the message obviously failed.
The negative politics that permeates the Republican party, up and down the entire ticket, is the reason the voters of this country have such a low opinion of everybody.
Yet, it will continue to thrive because it works in regards to election campaigns. A negative thought always gets remembered long after a positive one is spoken. John McCain learned this in 2000 and he has not forgotten. A desperate Minnesota Republican party has also decided to take the lowest of low roads.