Questionable questions in phone poll to Oklahoma voters
By Phil Cross
It is campaign season again as the primary runoff elections draw closer. That means your phones are probably already ringing either from supporters or pollsters trying to figure out who you plan to vote for at the polls. However one phone call is concerning some voters in central Oklahoma because it isn't just asking for an opinion, it appears to be telling information to voters in an attempt to influence opinions."In general those kind of tactics have no place in a political race," said Trebor Worthen of A.H. Strategies, "Things should stick to the record; it should stick to issues."Worthern is one of the political consultants working on the congressional campaign of Corporation Commissioner Patrice Douglas. He says someone is conducting what he calls "push polling" in an attempt to pass along negative information about Douglas. Fox 25 called the phone number that appeared on caller I.D.'s from the pollster. A recorded message identified a national survey company. We called the company and an attorney confirmed they are conducting "message testing" in Oklahoma. The attorney said the confidential contract prohibited releasing the name of the person or group who paid for the poll.The company confirmed one of the questions being asked is in a series where participants are asked to rate how likely each statement is to influence their voting decision. One such statement is "The consulting firm running Douglas' race was arrested on cocaine charges and Douglas continues to pay this firm."The question is an apparent attempt to tie the Douglas campaign to former GOP chair and political consultant Chad Alexander. He was arrested earlier this year and is facing drug charges. He has pled not guilty in his case. Worthen told Fox 25 the Douglas campaign is not working with Alexander. "They know there is no connection really between Chad and Patrice, in fact, Chad donated a thousand dollars to another candidate in this congressional race." Federal election records back up the fact Alexander supported Clark Jolley in the first primary. Election records for Douglas show she did pay another firm that once had Alexander as a partner, Majority Designs. Worthen said Alexander has worked with nearly every consulting firm in Oklahoma, but he is not on the payroll for A.H. Strategies. "We haven't really worked on projects closely together since the 2012 since before the 2012 election cycle."Worthen believes the polling question is a negative campaign attack called a push poll and he says he knows who is behind it."We've spoken with people who have gotten the calls," Worthen told Fox 25, "The caller on the other end of the line told them that it was for Steve Russell for Congress."Fox 25 asked Russell's senior advisor if his campaign was conducting any negative push polling. "Absolutely not," said Phillip Jackson, "We never have and we never will."Federal election records do not reveal any candidates in the 5th district paid the out-of-state polling company. And while the company would not reveal who paid for the poll they did confirm that the questions being asked are not push poll questions, rather message testing questions and they include negative statements about Steve Russell as well."It doesn't matter," Jackson said of the negative statements being asked, "The attacks came in the primary they didn't do anything. We think they're going to come again, in fact Steve Russell has committed that he will not campaign negative."Russell's campaign did endure negative campaign attacks during the primary. Those attacks came primarily from another candidate who did not make the runoff, Representative Mike Turner. Turner's criticisms of Russell included questions about his voting record and attendance in the state senate. The polling company said those are the same negative messages they have been testing."Message testing is where you are going to throw out negative and positive messages about both candidates and measure how people are going to react or respond to those particular messages," said Bill Shapard of SoonerPoll.com. Shapard said he rarely does message testing because it can be easily confused with push polling. He says the main difference to look out for is if the pollster asks demographic questions. He says push polling often does not have many questions. "A push poll is a campaign tactic and it's not legitimate polling," Shapard told Fox 25, "What we do at Soonerpoll is legitimate polling so we do not ever engage in push polling in fact we despise push polling."With no specific campaign claiming the message testing, or as the Douglas campaign calls it push polling, it is likely we may never know who is behind it. Campaign finance reports do not show any of the candidates directly spending money with the polling company. Russell's advisor said he is so opposed to the idea that he signed a voluntary pledge to avoid negative campaigning coming from his campaign and would publicly denounce any outside group doing anything negative on his behalf. The pledge is contingent on his opponent signing the same agreement."Steve Russell's pledge is obviously meaningless since he has already broken it with his negative push polling against Patrice. Now that his negative campaigning has been exposed, he is desperately seeking to change the subject," campaign manager Sam Fosdick told Fox 25 in a written statement, "We won't be tricked into signing a meaningless pledge that Steve Russell has already broken with his own negative campaigning."Jackson said Russell would not engage in negative campaigning because it is proven not to work well in winning support from Oklahoma voters. "They know a good name is better to be chosen than good riches and we're not concerned about anything that could come out."
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