CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Joel Benenson, lead pollster for President Obama’s reelection campaign, says thanks to New Hampshire’s so-called “push poll” law, the campaign is avoiding message testing in the contested state.
“We poll without any messaging because their law is ridiculous,” Benenson tells C&E. “The law is absurd. They don’t even know what a push poll is.”
The law in question, which has resulted in thousands of dollars in fines levied against polling firms, broadly defines a push poll as any call about a candidate’s “character, status, or political stance or record.” Calling voters “on behalf of, in support of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office by telephone” also falls under the definition.
The issue for pollsters is that the law essentially bans message testing and has strategists either treading very carefully in the state, or avoiding it altogether.
“If we are doing any messaging, we simply don’t do it in New Hampshire,” says Benenson.
While the Granite State has been one of nine major battlegrounds both presidential campaigns have targeted with television advertising, the total prize on election night is just four electoral votes. It ultimately means the state’s push poll law has less of an impact at the presidential level, but state-level campaigns are having a much tougher time.
The American Association of Political Consultants (AAPC) has been working to combat the law since last year. A big part of the problem, according to AAPC Chairman Whit Ayres, is that many state lawmakers in New Hampshire don’t even recognize why the current law is a real obstacle for survey researchers.
A legislative fix is unlikely in the near future, but pollsters might find some relief depending on the outcome of a lawsuit that’s pending against the campaign committee of Rep. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.). The suit was filed in April by the attorney general’s office and it alleges the Bass camp made a “deliberate attempt to avoid” the state’s disclosure requirements when conducting a poll in his 2010 race against Democrat Ann Kuster. The Bass camp is arguing that the state law is preempted by the Federal Election Campaign Act.
Benenson says it's up to the professional organizations to start applying some additional pressure on lawmakers in the state.
“We need to make sure we get organized and have a little more mobilization,” he says. “If New Hampshire had a big polling firm, this would probably be front and center right now. But as long as it’s a key state in a presidential election, we should deal with it.”