A footnote on push polling and the Lib Dem leadership race

Rather like ‘trolling’, the phrase ‘push polling’ risks becoming so widely used in so many different contexts that it frequently has little meaning beyond ‘someone did something I don’t like’. But it does actually have a meaning which isn’t just ‘phone call I don’t like’.

Push polling has two specific attributes. First, it means polling people and asking them their views on a series of negative assertions (which may or may not be true) about a candidate. Second, it also means making the calls for the purpose of influencing those who are called rather than simply for the purpose of testing out how a message does or doesn’t work.

That second point is crucial, because push polling has to be done on a much wider scale than normal polling as if you want to influence the result of an election you need to survey far more people than if you want to get a representative sample to test messages.

That’s why if you want to use language in a useful and accurate way, one of the first questions you should ask about allegations of push polling is ‘how many people were called?’

On that basis, it’s clear that the unauthorised phone calls carried out one or more members of Norman Lamb’s team was not a push poll as only 627 people were surveyed. (Update: just to clarify – multiple people confirm it was a survey sample-sized volume of calling which was carried out, and not mass calling that got curtailed prematurely.)

There are plenty of other issues about the phoning, but it wasn’t push polling (unless, of course, you want to misuse the phrase and condemn negative campaigning by indulging in a bit of negative campaigning yourself…)


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