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Push-polling starts aimed at Mitt Romney; N.H. launches probe

November 17, 2007 |  8:46 am

Well, it's started already. New Hampshire's attorney general has launched an "expedited investigation" into a spurt of unidentified push-polling calls in his state, where all forms of political communication including phone calls must identify the candidate being supported.

The Associated Press reported late Thursday that residents of both Iowa and New Hampshire had begun receiving the calls from unidentified callers. Push-polls start out sounding like a normal polling survey but in reality are designed to plant and spread distorted, damaging and often untrue information about a particular candidate, in this case Mitt Romney. He happens to be leading Republican polls in both states.

Because push-pollers also rely on the news media to help spread the same false information, we're not going to do that here except to say the calls involved Romney's Mormon religion. An example of a push-poll question could be: "If you knew that Candidate X had been previously arrested on sexual assault charges, would you be more or less inclined to vote for him?"

It's not the voter's answer that matters; it's that he or she might pass on that rumor to others and affect their vote.

The AP story suggested the calls were being made by a Utah company called Western Wats, where a spokesman refused to comment on the recent incidents but denied the company did push-polls.

"I've seen over the last few weeks more and more reports of e-mails, of literature being passed out, and now push-polls which attack me on the basis of religion," Romney said Friday while campaigning in Nevada, "and I think that's very, very disappointing and un-American."

John McCain, who was reportedly mentioned favorably in some of the calls for his military and anti-spending records, denounced them as "cowardly acts" and called on all the other campaigns to do the same and pledge not to use the tactic. McCain himself was the victim of push-polling in South Carolina in 2000, when callers planted the story that he had fathered a black child when in reality he and his wife had recently adopted a little girl from Southeast Asia.

Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson also denounced the calls, with Thompson calling them "robo-dialing bigotry," although push-polls involve a real person and are not automated dialing.

--Andrew Malcolm

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