Monday, August 23, 2010

Joseph O. Patton: The Push Poll: An exercise in deceit and cowardice

  Here we go again….

  You’d think it would be simple to wage a campaign for elected office - you determine what issues are important to you, what you plan to do if elected, then you hit the trail and attempt to convince voters that you’re the best candidate for the job. And yet increasingly - and sadly - campaigns are devolving into a game of who can make the other guy look bad.

  Enter Alabama State Representative David Grimes - Republican, District 73 - and the most virulent form of campaign cancer in our system of elections - push polls. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, a campaign or affiliated group strings together a disingenuous, false allegations-driven series of questions that frankly, aren’t questions at all. They’re loaded and are intended to plant a negative opinion of, or at least cast serious doubts in a prospective voter’s mind about the opposing candidate. In a simpler sense, it’s tantamount to asking someone: “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?”

  The Grimes-related push poll, seemingly appearing to ask a question, states that his Democrat opponent Joe Hubbard, an attorney, has “sued local businesses and defended many corrupt Montgomery politicians.” Hubbard says he hasn’t engaged in either activity - as public court records would reflect - and as expected, neither the Grimes campaign nor the state GOP has stepped forward to offer proof of any such thing. In fact they’ve unapologetically refused to do so. Surprised?

  The sheer negativity is deplorable enough, but what is truly nauseating and cowardly about a push poll is that whomever is conducting it lulls the unsuspecting citizen into thinking he or she is actually being polled in an honest way rather than being force-fed negative - and often inaccurate - views of the opposing candidate.

  A secondary low-blow inherent to a push poll is that it forces the target of the “poll” to be forced off his message, cornered so that he must be sidetracked into defending whatever absurd implication has been set forward in the poll as opposed to continuing to discuss his campaign platform. The irony therein is that whoever engages in push-polling is essentially admitting that his set of issues aren’t gaining traction with voters, otherwise he wouldn’t be changing the subject by making false claims about his opponent and thereby forcing the target to defend himself, even when the accusations are false and misleading.

  Hubbard, who was operating under a clean campaign promise with his opponent Grimes, is justifiably upset that he has fallen victim to push-polling. And worse, Grimes first denied any involvement in the so-called “poll.” He insisted it was the work of the Alabama Republican Party without his knowledge, yet he also tried to have it both ways by nonetheless stating that he wasn’t opposed to the content of the so-called “questions.” Grimes later backtracked and admitted that he was in fact in the loop about the poll. The dirty trick was compounded by the lie. And the old country folk wisdom assuredly applies here: If you ever find yourself in a hole, the first thing you should do is stop digging.

  And as voters, we too should stop digging by allowing the art of political dirty tricks to cloud the pressing issues we are facing in our communities. We cannot feed this beast. How can we stand self-righteously and condemn negative campaigning yet simultaneously buy into the drama and dirt-slinging by allowing it to influence our vote? And if a candidate campaigns in such a dishonest manner, isn’t it reasonable to assume he will govern in the same manner if elected? If we are sincere in our desire to see clean campaigns, we must reject such cowardly acts of deceit, just as we should reject the candidates who perpetuate such acts.

  Mr. Hubbard has every right to voice his justifiable displeasure on this matter. After all, Grimes seems to be going back on his word when he promised to run a clean campaign. But Hubbard can smile at the knowledge that if Grimes weren’t running so scared, fearful that Hubbard will emerge victorious in November, he wouldn’t be stooping to such a below-the-belt level and resorting to such cowardly campaign tactics.

  About the author: Joseph O. Patton is the editor-in-chief and founder of the Capital City Free Press. He is a former news editor for the Coosa County News, lead reporter for the Montgomery Independent and editor-in-chief of the AUMnibus, the student newspaper of Auburn-Montgomery. Patton is also the creator of and writer for the satirical news radio segment "Goat Hill Gossip," which previously aired on WAUD in Auburn, Alabama and has appeared on several Central Alabama radio programs as a political analyst.

Copyright © Capital City Free Press

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