A push poll is a type of survey designed to persuade or influence the participant into changing their viewpoint on an issue. It is often used as a political strategy to lead voters in a certain direction. A few months ago Gilbert Unified School District hired WestGroup Research to survey approximately 600 Gilbert residents. The survey asked participants for their opinions regarding whether or not there is responsible use of tax dollars, year round scheduling, technology use, parent involvement, school safety and several other topics.
Two specific questions targeted the upcoming budget limit increase set to appear on the ballot in the November general election. Several residents recognized these questions as a hidden political push poll buried in an otherwise legitimate survey. These questions related to the budget limit increase or override were asked as follows;
“The district governing board may call for a maintenance and operations override on the November 2012 ballot. The override would be a continuance of the override passed in 2007 and would provide funding to allow the district to exceed state allocation by up to 10% for operational costs. How likely would you be to support an override election to help the district better cover its operational costs? Please use a 1 to 5 scale where 1 means not at all supportive and 5 means very supportive.
If the budget override does not pass, the budget will need to be reduced by $5.8 million per year over three years for a total reduction of $17.6 million. The result of these cuts will be felt in increased class size, increased fees, and cuts to programs and services. Knowing this information are you (a) more likely to support the override, (b) less likely to support the override, (c) or does this information have no impact on your support for the override.”
The second question was asked if the survey respondent answered they would not vote for an override or budget limit increase or if the respondent indicated that they were unsure how they would vote. Given the persuasive nature of the second question, several residents argue that conducting the survey as a push poll will invariably yield inaccurate or exaggerated results in favor of the override.
As a political strategy, the intent is often to cause voters or the general public to believe that there is more support in favor of a candidate or issue than there is. The voters who are unsure and would prefer to vote in favor of a winning candidate or ballot measure will be then persuaded by the intentionally false numbers to vote in favor.
Other school districts such as Paradise Valley and Cave Creek Unified tried similar tactics last year. Paradise Valley Unified School District conducted a similar survey that revealed 79% of the 400 voters surveyed said they would support the override or budget limit increase. However, in November the PVUSD override was defeated by voters. Cave Creek also presented survey results that residents recognized as a push poll also. The Cave Creek survey revealed that 66% of voters said they would vote in favor of the increase. However, last November the CCUSD override was defeated with 56% of the voters opposing the effort. Therefore the exaggerated survey result of 66%, which claimed to have a margin of error of 5% according to Sonoran News, was off the mark by 22%.
Gilbert residents are encouraged to attend a work study this Tuesday August 21st at 6pm. There will be a presentation of the survey results. All community members are welcome to ask questions or comment regarding the survey. The meeting will be held at 140 S. Gilbert Road, Gilbert, Arizona, administrative complex located on the southwest corner of Gilbert Road and Elliot.