The battle for control of the Iowa Legislature is an intense one and; it’s attracting unwanted campaigning from unidentified supporters. A controversial technique called “push polling” has been used to offer critical statements about some of the candidates, but their opponents say they have no idea who’s making the calls. One of the targets is Senator Keith Kreiman, a Democrat from Bloomfield.
Kreiman says he picked up the phone when it rang during dinner one recent evening, and found it was a “push poll”…against himself. Kreiman says it did make him angry and disappointed “to hear things that were either outright false, or were what I believe to be terribly misleading.” A calling program is called a “push poll” when an organization asks questions that are intended not to gather information as much as to influence the person they’re calling.
For example, Kreiman says one of the questions his caller asked was — “would you be more or less likely to support Senator Kreiman, if you knew he voted against the largest income-tax cut in Iowa history?” Kreiman says the caller was “telling people outright lies” about his record.
“I voted for the two largest tax cuts in Iowa history, and it was just an outright falsehood,” Kreiman says. Merle Johnson, a Democrat who’re running for the state senate, says he got a call like that, too. Both came from callers identifying themselves as “Western Research” but when asked, they would not say who was paying for the survey.
Johnson, who’s running for an open seat representing Ankeny, says there’s a lot at stake as Democrats and Republicans battle for control of an evenly-divided state senate and some of the campaigning has gotten nasty. “Politics, it just seems like the last couple of years we’ve been going this way and somehow or another, we need to turn that around and bring it back up to a higher standard,” he says.
Opponents of both candidates say they weren’t aware of the calls and wouldn’t have condoned them. Ankeny Republican Larry Noble says he didn’t even know what push-polling was, and was disappointed to find someone was doing it on his behalf. “I am not in favor of anyone trying to ‘push’ somebody a certain way by saying things that may not be accurate or whatever,” Noble says. “I am against that.”
The Republican Party of Iowa and Senate G-O-P staff also deny making the calls. They say they probably came from a so-called “527,” a kind of special-interest campaign group that operates under fewer restrictions than the political parties. Noble says he wishes they were required to get his permission before campaigning on his behalf.
“If I’m not aware of it, that makes it suspicious,” Noble says unhappily. Iowa State University Political Science professor Steffen Schmidt says Noble is right to be concerned.
Schmidt says push polling is often effective, but it can backfire. “If it annoys the people that are being called,…then even people who might have supported the candidate could say well, this is dirty tricks and I really don’t want to support a candidate who’s engaging in them,” Schmidt says. “There is a problem with candidates losing control of their own election.”
The professor says special-interest groups use push-polls to advocate for a candidate without having to report advertising spending that would make clear who’s paying for what for whom.