Republicans cry foul, say Dems use push polls against them

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Posted: 1:02 PM- Republican candidates in key Utah legislative races say they are the victims of Democrats' unethical campaign tactics, a charge that the party's executive director says is untrue.

The targeted GOP members are accusing the Democrats of "push-polling," a shady campaign tactic where often malicious and inaccurate information about a candidate is spread anonymously under the guise of a public opinion survey.

"They're killing me in my district with that push poll," said Rep. Carl Wimmer, who is seeking re-election to his House seat in Herriman.

He said he has heard from numerous voters who got the call, which asks them who they plan to vote for and then asks if they would be less likely to vote for Wimmer if they knew he doesn't support children's health insurance.

''It's a barebones slanderous push poll. It's extremely unethical," said Wimmer, who was one of three House members who voted this year against a bill to expand enrollment in the Children's Health Insurance Program.

Todd Taylor, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, says they are not conducting a push poll.

''We absolutely do not have a push poll going on. We do have a candidate ID question poll going on," he said.

The key difference, according to Taylor, is that the party is collecting data, trying to identify voters who might be supportive of the Democratic candidates so they can be targeted for get-out-the-vote efforts before the Nov. 4 election.

A push poll is not meant to collect any data, just spread a message against the opponent. That's not the goal, in this case, Taylor said. The caller asks how involved respondents are in politics, how they plan to vote, and who they plan to vote for. But the script does offer information about the candidate's stand on select issues.

Taylor said similar calls are going out all across the state, each message tailored to specific districts and each message is 100 percent factual.

In House Speaker Greg Curtis' district, for example, the caller asks if voters would back Democrat Jay Seegmiller who is concerned about conflicts of interest, or Curtis who believes conflicts are natural. In Rep. Greg Hughes' district, the question asks if voters would back "Democrat Lisa Johnson who prioritizes funding based on the state's most pressing needs like public education or Republican Greg Hughes who supports funding things like private school vouchers while Utah's public schools are the most underfunded in the nation."

Johnson said she has no problem with the poll and believes voters should know that Hughes was a leading supporter of vouchers.

"In a push poll you don't care what the answer is, it's used simply to convey a message. We're not trying to convey a message, we're trying to get an honest feeling for how people are reacting in that context," said Taylor.

Quin Monson, an expert on polling and assistant director of Brigham Young University's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said that people often mistake message-testing polls or voter ID polls for push polls because of the nature of the questions.

But push polls generally are anonymous, oftentimes are recorded, aren't meant to gather any information and the message provided is often false. He said that does not seem to be the case with the Democratic calls.

"It sounds to me like they're simply trying to identify movable voters. If you're the Democratic Party in Utah you've got to find some set of voters that aren't registered Democrats who you can send your message to and persuade them to vote for your candidate," he said. "Unless the information is untrue, I think they're on solid ground."

Regardless, Wimmer said he thinks the tactic is distasteful.

''I would never do it," he said. ''If I'm going to win the race I want to know I didn't have to do something that low."