Use of push polling alleged

Caller is accused of `slanderous' remarks about O'Malley

October 13, 2006|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,Sun reporter

To Sandy Summers, a resident of Baltimore's Homeland neighborhood, the recent phone call to her home sounded like a standard political poll.

The caller asked Summers her age, race, income and for whom she was going to vote on Nov. 7. "And so I thought nothing of it," Summers said.

Until the questions started.

The first, she said, "was something like: If you heard in a TV ad that Martin O'Malley made grades worse for schools would you be more likely, less likely or just as likely to vote for him."

She said the pollster went on for 20 questions that were more like political statements portraying O'Malley, the Democratic candidate for governor, as a failed leader on various topics.

"There were 20 slanderous statements about O'Malley," said Summers, executive director of the Center for Nursing Advocacy in Baltimore. "I figured they would get to the 20 slanderous comments about Ehrlich, but they didn't."

Summers said the caller never identified her organization, but the O'Malley campaign thinks it knows who made the call.

In a letter to supporters sent Wednesday, O'Malley campaign manager Josh White wrote that "we are getting reports that Bob Ehrlich has resorted to one of Karl Rove's favorite tricks - the telephone push poll."

"In this particular strain of push polls, a polling company seemingly calls voters interested in their opinions as an independent pollster," the e-mail states. "But in fact, they are simply using the opportunity to push more of Desperate Bob's lies."

O'Malley aides have said that Ehrlich's pollster, Public Opinion Strategies, is orchestrating the calls. Representatives from the company did not return phone calls.

"We use a variety of strategies to reach Maryland voters to spread the word of Governor Ehrlich's accomplishments but also to show the difference between the two candidates," said Ehrlich spokesman Shareese N. DeLeaver. "Would we refer to it as push polling? No."

Public Opinion Strategies' Web site lists six methodologies for its research, including "push polling."

"'Push polling' is NOT polling at all - it is advocacy calls under the guise of research," the site states. "Push-polls contact thousands of people per hour with an objective of reaching sometimes hundreds of thousands of households. ... Push-polls are designed solely as a persuasion vehicle."

The Web site implies that push polling is one of its methods, but it never directly states whether the company uses that method.

Summers said she is an O'Malley supporter and that she did as White's e-mail suggested by calling the campaign to report the poll.

The questions "were so slanderous that no reasonable person would still vote for O'Malley after hearing them," she said. But "none of the outrageous statements were causing me to change my votes for O'Malley."

doug.donovan@baltsun.com

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