Editorial: Be alert; it’s election season
All those ear-to-ear grinning, hand-grabbing, stickers-sticking politicians in your Fourth of July parade should have tipped you off: It’s election season.
Yes, yes, Election Day is still four months off, but in addition to getting informed about the candidates, their positions and the issues, it’s time to get your guards up and to be watchful for and wary of false claims, false credit-grabs and false accusations. They seem to mar every election. As you make your choices, question and scrutinize the data and facts presented by the politicians, wannabe politicians and their supporters. Remember, always, ulterior motives are at play, most notably the winning over of — or conning you for — your vote and support.
Beyond the candidates, be aware, especially, of political messages dressed up as opinion polls. They’re called “push polls” because they’re attempting to “push undecided or ill prepared voters toward, or often away, from a candidate,” as John McClelland, a retired associate professor of journalism at Roosevelt University in Chicago, warned to editorial writers around the country.
Such sneakiness — they’re calling or emailing to gauge your opinion, they’ll say, but really they’re trying to sway your viewpoint with propaganda that, at best, is questionable — is “one of politics’ egregious evils on the public’s telephones and in journalists’ in-mail,” McClelland said.
So how can you tell within a few moments of picking up the phone or opening your email whether you’re being hustled with a campaign tactic and political telemarketing or whether it’s a legit pollster reaching out? Fortunately, the Poynter Institute, the respected longtime educator of journalists, based in St. Petersburg, Fla., has put together lists of things to watch for and to keep in mind.
You’ll know it’s a sleazy push poll when you’re asked only one or only a few questions — and they’re all about a single candidate or a single issue, Poynter said, quoting from its “Understanding and Interpreting Polls” class. Also, questions will be strongly negative or uniformly positive in describing a candidate or an issue, the organization conducting the call may not be named or a phony name might be given, you won’t be asked for demographic information, and you’ll get evasive answers if you ask for information about the survey.
Push polls usually call very large numbers of people, don’t use random samples, and rarely if ever report results.
On the flip side, you’ll know you’re part of legitimate message-testing when there are more than a few questions, you’re asked for demographic data, and you’re given results if you ask for them. Message-testing is usually based on a random sample of voters, according to Poynter, and the number of calls is within the range of legitimate surveys, usually between 400 and 1,500 interviews.
Ready or not, another election season has arrived. So has the need for us as voters to be informed — and skeptical, always — in making our all-important choices.