Friday, May 28, 2010

Push Poll Targets Saqib Ali (Two Updates)

This past week, a push poll targeting Senate challenger Saqib Ali went out through District 39. That is a sign of rising heat in one of MoCo’s most contentious primaries.

One source described the phone poll as beginning with general questions about several politicians, including Martin O’Malley and Ike Leggett, and then becoming more specific with references to Senator Nancy King and Delegates Ali (who is challenging her) and Kirill Reznik and Charles Barkley. The pollster then asked the resident whether he supported Ali or King. The pollster followed by conveying positive information about King and negative information about Ali and asked if that affected the resident’s voting intentions. Two of the questions asked whether the caller knew that 20-25% of Ali’s money came from Robin Ficker and that Ali cast the deciding vote in favor of slots.

Both statements are factually inaccurate. Ali voted against the slots amendment during the special session and while he voted for the slots implementing bill, it passed by a large margin in the House. And while Ficker supports Ali, the State Board of Elections campaign finance database does not show any contributions from Ficker to Ali.

Another constituent wrote the following angry email to District 39 politicians slamming the poll:

From: [Name and Email Withheld]
Date: Thu, May 27, 2010 at 8:15 PM
Subject: Give me a break.
To: [Withheld]

Hi, my name is [Name Withheld]. I live in your district. Currently, in my home are 4 registered democrats, and each of us received phone calls from ER Surveys yesterday. I have several complaints.

First, the last phone call came at 9:54 p.m. My husband and I were in bed, and did not appreciate being disturbed. I had already taken the survey at 8:00 pm. At that time, I had agreed to take the survey as I like to do my part, and understand the importance of polling. Throughout the survey, I was extremely honest, thoughtful and respectful though by the end of the questioning I felt disrespected because of the exceedingly evident bias towards Nancy King.

The slant of the polling became obvious after just a few questions, as all the questions relevant to Mrs. King seemed to follow the general format: “How important to you is it that Nancy King is responsible for (insert something extremely positive that Nancy King was responsible for here.)”

Meanwhile, I was curious if there would be any questions pertaining to Saqib Ali. The pollster informed me that Mr. Ali would be included, but that the questions would appear in a slightly different format. Several minutes later, after answering several more questions about Nancy King, the pollster finally moved on to the “slightly different” questions concerning Saqib Ali. The general format followed: “How important to you is it that Saqib Ali is responsible for (insert something extremely negative that Saqib Ali was responsible for here.)”

I’m no statistician, but I couldn’t help feeling the questions were prompting specific answers. I felt that I had been manipulated into supporting Nancy King through my answers to questions that were blatantly slanted towards her, while simultaneously being denied the chance to provide positive support for Saqib Ali. I resent that, and I suddenly felt as though I might as well have been on the phone with Rush Limbaugh.

This is not how I want my thoughts projected as our party moves towards November. In addition, all three of my children (well educated, politically active, and loyal to the democratic party) were so disgusted with the poll they refused to take it. There is nothing sadder to me. The success of our party, the democratic party, lies in its ability to attract politically active, saavy, and young individuals, and that ability is compromised if such people are discouraged from participating by cheap polling tricks.

Statistical prompting is a serious no-no, and frankly I’m particularly upset that the bias of the questions was so poorly concealed. It’s one thing when my children, well educated in political science and statistical design, can detect such bias, but it’s another when it’s so obvious even to me. And as far as I’m concerned, no polling place should be calling a family household past 8:00 pm. You ought to be more considerate of young families who may have sleeping children, in addition to those like myself who are tucked in by 9:00 p.m.

Thank you for your time, and cheers to looking forward to your future respect towards mine.
Reasonable people can disagree about the definition of a push poll. We believe this one qualifies because 1) there is no legitimate reason to contact four people in the same household, and 2) it includes false information about Ali.

One informant compares this poll to a poll done in the District 20 Senate race in 2006. In that poll, leading questions were asked in favor of Senator Ida Ruben and against challenger Jamie Raskin. The similarities with the current poll point a long finger in the direction of Senate President Mike “Big Daddy” Miller, who supported Ruben in 2006 and supports King now. But let’s emphasize that our sources – including our spies in Annapolis – deny responsibility. We cannot assign blame for the poll to King, Big Daddy or any other particular individual without more evidence.

What is clear is that at least a few people want to keep Saqib Ali out of the Senate VERY badly.

Update: Ali’s campaign is now accusing King of engaging in “Karl Rove-style politics” and spreading lies about his record.

Update 2: Senator King told us she had nothing to do with the poll.