July 10, 2004
An East Valley lawmaker is defending his use of telephone calls that appear to be a political survey, but critics claim it is a "pushpoll" or a poorly disguised attack on his primary opponent.
Sen. Slade Mead, R-Ahwatukee Foothills, said he uses private telephone polling to test campaign arguments and to shape election strategy. Some independent pollsters argue this method taints their industry and misleads voters.
"If they are calling in to propagandize him in the name of public opinion polling, it is deceitful and should reflect negatively on the campaign for doing it," said private pollster Earl de Berge of Phoenix.
Mead is being challenged by Rep. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, in District 20, which covers Ahwatukee Foothills and west Chandler.
"It goes through a list of different issues that John and I are opposite on to get an opinion of people," Mead said. "It gives me a good feeling of where I need to be out campaigning."
But Huppenthal said the poll questions are designed to turn voter opinions against him and toward Mead. That would make the survey a "pushpoll" because it pushes a person’s attitudes in a particular direction instead of simply exploring opinions.
"It’s not a question; it’s a statement to smear me," Huppenthal said.
Toni Monti of Ahwatukee Foothills said she received one of the calls and she agreed with Huppenthal.
Monti, a Republican, said the questions distorted Huppenthal’s voting record and the pollster didn’t explain that Mead’s campaign is paying for the survey.
"If your readers get this poll, they should express their outrage that they are being misinformed, manipulated and deceived for the benefit of Slade Mead," Monti said.
Bruce Merrill, a pollster and professor at Arizona State University, defended the use of such polls by candidates.
"I believe all polls have the potential to be biased," Merrill said. "A push-poll is just one technique to use to measure the effectiveness of arguments or issues."
Merrill said push-polls become unethical if the results are released to the public without a clear explanation of how the poll was conducted. Mead said he didn’t plan to release any polling results.