A big waste of money. But was it a push poll?

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

It doesn't matter where you come down on the Great Fluoride Debate of 2013, this story is stupid - and not just a little bit hilarious. And, depending on some answers, potentially very troubling.

It seems that on Wednesday night, lots of Portland residents got a robo-call that started like this:

"On November 6, residents of Wichita will vote on whether or not to fluoridate our community water..."

That's right: Wichita. As in Kansas. 1766 miles away by car. (1840 miles away by bike, via a route that scoots you around Utah.)

WW's Aaron Mesh has more:

Barbara Smith Warner, a Portland field representative for U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), says the recorded call she received Tuesday went on to give arguments against fluoride.

"They had clearly, literally just taken the recording they had done in Wichita in November and sent it out to a bunch of 503 area-code numbers," Warner says. "It was so weird. What's the matter with Kansas?"

Voters in Wichita rejected fluoridation in a city vote last Nov. 6. As WW reported earlier this week, the Wichita campaign was spearheaded by real-estate developer James Garvey, who founded a group called Kansas Taxpayers Network to "represent Kansas taxpayers at the state and local level by advocating limited taxes and government spending to create a free market environment."

Garvey is also the largest donor to Clean Water Portland, the campaign against Portland's May 21 fluoridation ballot initiative. He's given $43,000 of the $190,000 that Clean Water Portland has raised.

Now, the question I've got is this: Was it a push poll? I haven't heard a recording of it, but by the looks of my Facebook newsfeed, the call went to a LOT of people -- not just the few thousand required to get a 400 or 500 -sample poll.

Of course, given the opening line - "Wichita" - I imagine a lot of folks hung up fast, which would cause the automated system to keep dialing to fill its quota of completed surveys.

We've heard a lot of activists scream "push poll!" in the comments here at BlueOregon. Inevitably, on closer examination, these polls turn out to be plain ol' small-sample message-testing polls, conducted for research purposes - rather than telemarketing communications designed to look like polls.

Push polling, of course, is deeply unethical. Here's a statement from the American Association for Public Opinion Research:

A so-called "push poll" is an insidious form of negative campaigning, disguised as a political poll. “Push polls” are not surveys at all, but rather unethical political telemarketing -- telephone calls disguised as research that aim to persuade large numbers of voters and affect election outcomes, rather than measure opinions. This misuse of the survey method exploits the trust people have in research organizations and violates the AAPOR Code of Professional Ethics and Practices.

So, the questions that the anti-fluoride campaign has to answer include: How many people received this call? How many surveys were completed? And what were the results of this poll? And they'd do well to release the transcript of the call, if they have nothing to hide.

If it turns out that it's just a misfire of a well-intentioned and legitimate poll, well, it's just a bad day for the campaign. But if it turns out to be an actual push poll? Well, that's a whole different situation - and would represent a substantial turn toward unethical political practices in Oregon that we've not seen before.

So, anti-fluoride campaign, do you have any answers for us?

And BlueOregon readers, tell us: Did you get the Wichita fluoride call?

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