The heavy fines aren’t the only problem, according to pollsters who have worked in the state. The disclosure requirement can also taint a survey’s results.
“You could not write a credible political survey that doesn’t fall under their determination of a negative persuasion call,” says Ayres. The attorney general’s office hasn’t been forthcoming in telling pollsters what they need to do to comply with the state’s law. As a result, he adds, the AAPC has warned its members about the dangers of polling in the state.
Edwards admits that the state’s definition of a push poll “is broad enough [to include] what is considered message testing by other people.” To a campaign or pollster, the calls in question are the furthest thing from a bona fide push poll, but if a call meets the state’s broad definition contained in the law, then it’s subject to certain disclosure requirements in the call script.
New Hampshire’s law considers calls about a candidate’s “character, status, or political stance or record” a push poll. Moreover, “calling voters on behalf of, in support of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office by telephone” is considered a push poll. And if you give the voter the impression the call came from an organization “acting independent of any particular political party, candidate, or interest group,” well, that’s a push poll, too. That’s where Bass allegedly ran into trouble.
There is now a growing recognition among state lawmakers that changes to the new law may be necessary before pollsters write off the state altogether.
“I’d like to be able to help solve this problem,” says State Rep. David Bates (R), who chairs the state House’s election law committee. “But I would need much more specific information—what were the calls? What was the content of them? At this point nobody’s giving me documentation that would give me the clear details I’d need to move forward with something.”
Bates says he’s heard about the memo circulated by the AAPC that warns members of the dangers of working in New Hampshire. “That gave me pause,” he says. “If polling companies are reluctant to do business [in New Hampshire], that creates a real problem.”
“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,” Ayres, and Democratic pollsters Mark Mellman and Jefrey Pollock wrote to AAPC members in a memo circulated earlier this year. The AAPC has vowed to continue to fight the interpretation of the law.
In order for that problem to be resolved, New Hampshire will have to sort out its own internal politics.
Of the four recent push-polling cases, all were brought to the attorney general’s attention by state lawmakers, including two by Bates.
“It appears,” says Ayres, “that they don’t want professional campaigns to be run in the state.”