New Hampshire crackdown could cost polling firms

An attempt to crackdown on push polling in New Hampshire has made some pollsters anxious about doing survey work in the state. The law in question in the Granite State is overly broad, say consultants, and could result in legitimate survey research being percieved as push polling.

The recent primary campaign came with a flurry of polling and could wind up costing some firms thousands in fines. Michael Delaney, New Hampshire’s attorney general, has begun enforcing a state law against pollsters asking questions about a candidate’s “character, status, or political stance or record.” 

Already, according to the New York Times, OnMessage Inc. has settled with Delaney’s office for $15,000, although the Republican firm denied any wrongdoing. In another case, a firm was threatened with a fine of $1.4 million.

The law, which has been on the books since 1998, is written “so broadly as to incorporate bona fide survey and opinion research practice,” according to a memo by the Marketing Research Association and the American Association of Political Consultants. The law was enacted in response to voters' outrage over calls that were designed to "push" them toward an opinion about a candidate.

The AAPC recently warned its members about the risks of polling in the Granite State. Delaney’s interpretation of the law, according to group, “not only includes research calls testing negative messages, but could also extend even to polls that simply question voters' opinions on relatively objective or verifiable issues and concerns.”

“Until we are successful in keeping this law from being wrongfully enforced against genuine survey research, be very careful when conducting legitimate survey research in New Hampshire,” Whit Ayres, Mark Mellman and Jefrey Pollock wrote in to AAPC members Feb. 10.

According to the AAPC, the state attorney general’s office hasn’t provided “clear guidance” on the issue and has encouraged its membership to seek legal advice before working in New Hampshire.

“It’s a classic example of poorly drafted legislation that tries to solve one problem and ends up creating a half-dozen other ones,” Ayres told the Times.

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