Who is behind the ‘push poll’ attacking Alison Redford?

Is this the Albertan to whom I am speaking? The mystery push-pollster busy in Alberta this week – the caller you’re speaking with, of course, may not be exactly as illustrated. Below: Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, sleazy U.S. political tactician Karl Rove; Redford Chief of Staff Stephen Carter.

Who is behind the sleazy “push poll” that’s got home telephones throughout Alberta ringing?

A push poll, for those of you who have not yet stumbled across the term, is a political campaigning technique in which a political party or interest group attempts to change the opinions of the people whom they contact by pretending to conduct a poll.

Usually push polls are designed to smear opposing politicians by suggesting something nasty about them, things that often have enough truth to them to make them dangerous but which occasionally are outright fabrications.

Even when they are founded in truth, push polls are designed to attack and not to elicit and tabulate actual opinions – hence, there’s usually little effort made to actually measure and analyze the responses that the questioners who interrupt your quiet time at home may hear.

The push poll currently doing the rounds in Alberta asks two questions designed to push “respondents” (that is, the message audience) toward a particular conclusion about Progressive Conservative Premier Alison Redford – and, eventually, in the direction of a particular action or non-action in the polling booth. There are some other questions, too, of the standard “who’s-winning-the-horserace” variety, say Albertans who have been phoned.

One of the push-poll’s questions asks respondents something like this: “The Globe and Mail reported that Alison Redford supported Stephane Dion’s multi-billion-dollar child care program and not Stephen Harper’s plan to give families a choice. How does that affect your opinion of Alison Redford?”

The obvious goal here is to paint Premier Redford as “anti-family” in that wonderful way neo-Cons, including neo-Cons who support Ms. Redford it must be noted, call programs that would help families “anti-family” and those that hurt them “pro-family.”

It also tries to imply that she is a big-time “tax and spend” type, as in the phrase “tax and spend liberal.” Never mind that it’s always so-called “conservatives” who want to hose away our billions by spending like drunken sailors on unneeded stealth fighters, unnecessary prisons and giveaways to billionaires.

The second question tries to get at Ms. Redford from another angle, asking something like: “Alison Redford’s chief of staff is not abiding by a court order to repay a $600,000 debt. How does that affect your opinion of Alison Redford?”

This is a reference to a story broken by the Calgary Sun that a company owned by Ms. Redford’s just-appointed chief of staff, political strategist Stephen Carter, owed the substantial sum to contractors including the University of Calgary for events run by the firm. A report in the Sun earlier this month said Mr. Carter had nothing to say on this matter, which one could argue is not the best political strategy for dealing with a situation like this. Be that as it may, while the criticism implied by the question may be legitimate, the technique is designed to deceive respondents.

Which brings us back to the question about all this that really matters: who is behind it?

Historically in North America, of course, push polls are much more likely to be used by the parties of the right than those of the centre and left. They were a technique favoured by Karl Rove, the scorched-earth mastermind behind the campaigns of George W. Bush and other politicians nurtured by the American 1 per cent. Mr. Rove is much admired by the Canadian right. But you really can’t put this sort of thing beyond anyone nowadays.

Arguably, any opposition party in Alberta stands to gain from anything that sows seeds of doubt about Ms. Redford’s capabilities or her appropriateness for the job.

That said, I am confident this poll was commissioned by neither the New Democrats nor the Alberta Party – because its message makes no sense from either party’s perspective, and because both parties categorically and convincingly deny having anything to do with it. Indeed, I broke my promise to do no actual research until someone pays me for this stuff, and contacted them all, except the Tories, of course, who ex officio are off he hook.

The same logic can be applied to the Alberta Liberals – even though they are now led by a former Conservative, it seems unlikely they’d include an attack on a former federal Liberal leader in a question – although the caucus spokesman I talked to, the only Liberal I could reach, refused to speak for the party.

Regardless, none of these three parties has the funds to waste on this kind of thing at a time when they may soon have a pressing need to pay for election signs.

Which leaves one party as Suspect No. 1, to wit, the well-funded Wildrose Party led by Danielle Smith.

It’s the only party in Alberta that these particular questions are likely to benefit. And the senior Wildroser I talked to was precise and nuanced in his response. He’s not involved in polling, you see – he does other things for the party.

This kind of evidence isn’t going to get a conviction, even in the court of Alberta public opinion, which has notoriously low standards. Plus, of course, it’s always possible the poll is being done by some independent of semi-independent group of Swift Boaters.

Nevertheless, in this light, Question No. 2 is interesting because Mr. Carter and his company’s financial issues present a particular problem for the Wildrose Party. After all, they hired him first, before Ms. Redford or the government of Alberta did, and any attack against him that proves effective could rub off on them too.

No doubt they’re looking for ways to get at him that will stick only to their opponent on the right, the Redford Tories.

Either way, if they can develop one of these issues into a wedge that divides Ms. Redford’s supporters and drives some of them to the right, or even just persuades some of them to stay home on voting day, the Wildrose Party will benefit. Indeed, the Wildrose Party even benefits if they can persuade some electors to move to a more left-wing party, as that could create vote-splitting opportunities in many constituencies. A potential target for this kind of thinking: small-l liberals who shelled out $5 to join the Tories and vote for whom they saw as the least offensive candidate for premier.

We may never find out who is behind this push poll, of course. Don’t expect the people who are doing it to fess up very willingly.

In the next few days, look for a new poll published for a political party, even if the publisher makes no reference to the two push questions. And look for polls by companies that you’ve never heard of before, since it’s unlikely a legitimate pollster would ask questions like these.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

12 Comments on "Who is behind the ‘push poll’ attacking Alison Redford?"

  1. Anonymous says:

    Dave: As someone who has done the poll I can tell you it is clearly the Wildrose. The language around the child care question is loaded with right wing language. Just a couple qubbiles. The childcare question is about Paul Martin not Dion. The Carter question is a little more grim and paints Carter very badly, it almost crosses to slander. The othr thing to remember is all the question on voter support take place BEFORE the push questions so the pushyness does not effect the support. AT the end after the push questions it does something unusual for automated polls, it asks all the demographic qs you would get from a live poll. The results should be pretty good.

  2. fubar says:

    David
    Thanks for the head's up on this. Your assumption on the likely culprit behind this type of smear campaign (I don't consider it to any type of poll) is probably correct. The political Right in Canada has been adopting many of the US Republican tactics in the past 5 years. However, it is generally a Canada-lite version because going all nasty would probably rile the general electorate.
    All that said, it seems Ms. Smith is going out of her way to alienate a large portion of Alberta – the capital region. My guess is the money behind her (the real power) is dictating this. And if so, can she get anywhere by turning off a large segment of the populace?
    My prediction in the spring election – the Calgary party (aka Wildrose) takes a few seats in Calgary and perhaps the rural areas, and Ms. Smith does not get elected. I don't think they are the revolution that the media (and Ms. Smith) keep talking about.

  3. NLAR says:

    I transcribed two of the questions that you can read here

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/70599926/Verbatim-of-Two-Poll-Questions

  4. David J. Climenhaga says:

    Thanks to Anonymous 10:25 for his or her memory of this poll and to NLAR for his or her very helpful transcription. As readers can tell from my original post, I have not been called by this pollster myself, but I have now heard about it from a sufficient number of readers to be persuaded that the sample called by the “pollsters” in Alberta is very large. If I can ask a favour of my “Baker Street Irregulars,” it would be this. If anyone notes the name of the polling company conducting this push poll, please leave a comment here or email me at AlbertaDiary(at)gmail.com . Good work everyone!

  5. Anonymous says:

    The Liberals have repeatedly stated they are trying to distance themselves for their federal counterparts, so yes it could be them.

    Also, to state that Stephen Carter could equally paint Wildrose poorly is also inaccurate. Once his problems came to light under Wildrose, Stephen and the Wildrose mutually parted ways. Apparently, there was no such concern over ethics once dollars signs and dreams of power came to Stephen and Alison.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I find myself it the strange position of supporting an Alberta PC – perhaps hell really has frozen over – but I would far far rather see Redford on the throne than watch the Wildrose take over.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Rob Anderson will be the next leader of the Wildrose.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Indeed, I broke my promise to do no actual research until someone pays me for this stuff, and contacted them all, except the Tories, of course, who ex officio are off he hook.

    That's a mistake. If push polls are the oldest telephone-era political trick in the book, then the second oldest trick is to run a push poll against yourself (targeted at those who are most likely to talk about it) and then blame your opponent.

  9. David J. Climenhaga says:

    This is Alberta Diary Blog Post No. 698, and I really have tried hard for all but one of the other 697 not to comment on readers' comments unless a note of explanation or self-defence was required. However, the suggestion by Anonymous 5:14, who is obviously not getting enough sleep, is one of the most risible commentaries that has ever appeared on this blog. Really people, not even the Borgias would run a push poll against themselves, because the whole concept is based on the premise that people who receive the call are too ignorant or inattentive to understand what is going on. So doing what Mr. Anonymous suggests would be tantamount to shooting yourself in the foot with a large calibre revolver so people would feel sorry for you when you limped. The Alberta Conservatives, whatever their many faults may be, are not stupid, and that would be a very stupid strategy. Good try, Mr. Anonymous, but the idea of running a push poll "against yourself (targeted at those who are most likely to talk about it)" and then blaming your opponent is fanciful poppycock. It is most assuredly not the second-oldest trick in the book.

  10. Scott C. says:

    The Firm's name appeared in my call display as:
    YOUR VOICE ALBE
    Their phone number is 1-(780)8009-3687 if anyone would like to call them.

    A quick Google tells me:
    The 780-809 exchange is serviced by the following companies within the Edmonton ratecenter:
    Distributel

  11. Scott C. says:

    Typo in previous comment, number is:
    1-(780)809-3687

  12. Mark says:

    I tried a followup "reverse lookup" on the phone number that Scott C gave – it is associated with a company called "Your Choice Alberta", using a program named MyCallBot. There are many phone numbers associated with this, that could be used – so any recipients of these calls shouldn't expect that particular number to come up on call display.

    This is the sort of pseudoscientific nonsense that is loved by the Fox News crowd. It has little or no actual research value, but is crafted by some very clever people to promote its aims.

    Too bad. I've met many of the WRP candidates and their supporters, and they seem like genuine, well-meaning people (although the backroom cabal is even MORE powerful in the WRP than in the established parties!)

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