Romney Push Polls… Himself?

It’s getting pretty heated no matter where you look in the current presidential campaigns, but I think I was hoping things wouldn’t get so hot that someone might resort to push polling.

So much for that bit of hope.

For those who don’t know, push-polling is a practice in which a demographic is targeted by a series of polls that eschew typical polling questions in favor of highly pointed ones intended primarily to plant seeds of negativity towards a candidate.

Perhaps the most famous push poll occurred in South Carolina during the 2000 campaign.  McCain, unlike now, was doing well in the polls, but just in time to derail the Straight Talk Express, a particularly nasty push poll was enacted upon South Carolina’s primary Republican voters.

The question asked here was whether the voter would be more or less likely to support a McCain presidency if they knew that the Arizona senator had fathered a black child out of wedlock.  What made this push poll significantly malignant was the fact that McCain does have an adopted Bangledeshi daughter, Bridget, whose complexion is dark enough for her to be mistaken for African American at a quick glance.

I’m sure you could imagine the effect of sitting through the push poll one night, and then seeing McCain hug Bridget a day or two later while at a campaign stop.

Fast forward to present day, and we see that another push poll has spread throughout New Hampshire, this one with a negative bent against Mormonism.  In a strange twist, however, the New Republic Online’s Mark Hemingway connects the dots back not to one of Romney’s rivals, but to Mitt’s campaign itself.

This may seem strange at first, but there are gains to be made for push polling one’s self.  On one hand, it could be used to innoculate voters against negatives attached to a candidate, in this case Romney being a Mormon.  On the other hand, if you are able to keep your fingerprints off the push poll itself, you could further damage your rivals as they would be seen getting caught “red handed”.

Has something like this been done before?  You betcha.  While it may not be push-polling exactly, it would do well for us to remember Karl Rove.

Campaigning in 1986 for then Gubernatorial candidate Bill Clements, Karl Rove “found” a listening device planted in his office just days before a key debate.  The discovery caused a wild fire of press coverage and the bugging incident played heavily in the debate.  Later, it would be learned that the most likely suspect to bug Rove’s office was Rove himself; the battery on the bug had only a ten hour life which would necessitate daily access to Rove’s office in order for the device to have any useful purpose.

Now, it should be said that there are a lot of holes in Hemingway’s theory, not the least of which being the incestuous quality of the polling community, a hole that Hemingway himself admits.  Further there is the fact that Romney is currently head and shoulders above the competition in New Hampshire, which one would think might preclude the necessity to resort to such dirty tactics.

But that leaves the question of who did it?  It’s unlikely that Giuliani planted it; he long ago abandoned the politics of early state primaries in favor of something closer to a fifty-state strategy.  The next most reasonable suspect would be McCain for whom New Hampshire is crucial and McCain enjoys an unusually high level of support in comparison to other early voting states like Iowa.

But one is apprehensive about laying the blame for this at McCain’s door, especially considering that he was the victim of a push poll himself.

We may never know who did order the push poll, and as a result it’s difficult to predict the backlash.  But it could be interesting to see how this thing plays out if it plays out at all.

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