Last weekend, an untold number of New Hampshirans in the 1st District were told a whole lot of negative things about Democrat Jim Craig in the course of what was purportedly a public opinion poll.
After first getting their name, party registration, age, and sex, and inquiring generally about which issues were most important to the voter, the pollsters asked three positive, leading questions about GOP incumbent Rep. Jeb Bradley. The pollsters, who identified themselves as calling from "Venture Data," asked if respondents knew that Bradley had voted against drilling in ANWR, in favor of stem cell research, and for reimportation of drugs from Canada -- all popular positions (although one wasn't true: Bradley once voted against allowing drug reimportation, citing safety concerns). The pollster then asked about the respondent's negative or positive impressions about Jeb Bradley.
The questioner then launched into fifteen leading, negative questions about Craig, according to those who alerted the Democrat's campaign. One question suggested that Craig was a strong proponent of gun control -- surely the kiss of death to any politician in New Hampshire. (Craig, who's a representative in the New Hampshire state House of Representatives, has never voted for new gun control measures, said Juli-anne Whitney, Craig's campaign manager.)
Other questions mentioned Craig's votes against banning late term abortions and against banning gay marriage. One suggested that, as a trial attorney, Craig supported legislation allowing lawyers to collect higher malpractice fees. Another asked about Craig's support of a state income tax. The poll ended without gauging the respondent's positive or negative impressions of Craig.
As reported, the calls had qualities of a "push poll" -- a dirty campaign trick used to smear an opponent, not collect data. "Sounds to me like a campaign technique instead of a legit poll," said Mickey Carroll of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute after hearing a description of the calls. Push polls are considered unethical by most pollsters and, if proven, can elicit FEC fines.
It's not clear who paid for the poll. My calls to the Bradley campaign and Utah-based Venture Data were not returned. However, the firm is closely tied to a Republican polling firm called Public Opinion Strategies, which has been paid $932,020 by the National Republican Congressional Committee so far this election cycle, in addition to tens of thousands more in work for Republicans across the country. When I called the NRCC and asked if the group had funded the calls, spokesman Alex Burgos told me, âwe donât comment on our strategy."
Venture Data has been implicated for push polls a number of times before, dating back to 1996; in the cases where an affiliation was disclosed, the company had contracted with Public Opinion Strategies, which helped found Venture Data. Public Opinion Strategies was listed as a member of the company until 2001, when the official alliance ended, according to the Utah Department of Commerce. My call to Public Opinion Strategies wasn't immediately returned.
In July, Venture Data was fingered for push polling against Dem Joe Sestak in his contest against Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA). The Craig poll resembles the Sestak poll in its long list of negative questions about the targeted candidate.
"Clearly, the Republicans are terrified of Jim Craig and are desperate to bloody him up before the primary," said Juli-anne Whitney, Craig's campaign manager, referring to Craig's primary date this coming Tuesday.