A push-polling campaign with live telephone interviewers is underway in Iowa House district 43, where two-term Republican State Representative Chris Hagenow faces Democrat Susan Judkins. Following my own advice, I took detailed notes on last night's call.
UPDATE: I am hearing reports of similar push-polls against John Forbes, Democratic candidate in House district 40, and John Phoenix, Democratic candidate in House district 38. If you have received these calls or push-polls targeting other Democratic House candidates, please let me know: desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com. If you get one of these calls, take notes if possible, and don't be afraid to ask the caller to repeat the question.
SECOND UPDATE: Mark Blumenthal explained the difference between a real opinion survey and a push-poll on his Mystery Pollster blog. Whereas a real poll is designed to collect data from respondents and measure opinions, a push-poll is all about spreading negative information about a political opponent to as many people as possible, under the deceptive guise of conducting a survey.
House district 43 covers suburban areas west of Des Moines: all of Windsor Heights, most of Clive (except the part in Dallas County), and some West Des Moines precincts. Bleeding Heartland's preview of this race includes a district map and background on Hagenow and Judkins.
Suspecting a telemarketer, I didn't answer the phone the first couple of times a number with an 801 area code popped up on my caller ID yesterday. The third time, I figured the call might be worth a listen. The caller identified himself as representing Opinionology, a Utah-based survey and data collection firm.
I never hang up on a political survey, whether a real opinion poll or a message-testing effort on behalf of a candidate. The first group of questions were unremarkable: do I think Iowa is headed in the right direction or off on the wrong track, do I approve of Governor Terry Branstad's work, do I approve of the Iowa legislature's work, do I have a favorable opinion of President Barack Obama, would I say I am very likely to vote, somewhat likely, not likely, and so on. Then the caller asked about my voting plans: if the election were held today, would I vote for a Democrat for Iowa House or a Republican? For president, Barack Obama the Democrat, or Mitt Romney the Republican? For Congress, Tom Latham the Republican, or Leonard Boswell the Democrat? For Iowa House, Chris Hagenow the Republican or Susan Judkins the Democrat? In each case, the caller asked whether I would definitely vote for that person, or just probably. I noticed that this survey did not ask about the Senate district 22 race between incumbent Republican Pat Ward and Democratic challenger Desmund Adams.
Next came the Republican message-testing. I'm going to read you four statements about Susan Judkins, the caller said. After each one, tell me whether it makes you more likely to vote for Susan Judkins, less likely, or makes no difference. At this point I started asking the caller to repeat each statement, sometimes more than once, to get the most detailed notes possible. What follows is not a verbatim reproduction, but I am confident that I've accurately paraphrased each statement.
1. Susan Judkins was part of a government agency under former Governor Chet Culver that spent $19,000 on carpeting for its offices.
This question refers to Judkins' work as Intergovernmental Affairs Director for the Rebuild Iowa Office, an agency that operated with mostly federal funding for about three years following the summer 2008 floods. I doubt whoever picked out the new carpet ran that decision by Judkins. Reflecting on the Rebuild Iowa Office's work after its sunset in the summer of 2011, Judkins described its operations as lean and noted that it came in under budget during its last fiscal year.
2. Susan Judkins would vote for Barack Obama's government takeover of health care.
The so-called "government takeover of health care" is still a leading talking point for Republicans, despite being proved false many times. In any event, the 2010 Affordable Care Act is a federal law. It's not as if the Iowa House is in a position to adopt it or overturn it.
3. Susan Judkins supports repealing Iowa's right to work law and eliminating protections for workers who do not want to be forced to join a labor union.
I told the caller that I was pretty sure this statement was false, but if it were true it would make me support Judkins even more. (Click here and here for background on so-called "right to work" laws.)
After taking the survey I contacted Judkins, who confirmed that she supports keeping Iowa a right to work state. She added that she did not receive the endorsement of the Iowa chapter of the AFL-CIO, because she does not support repealing the right to work law.
4. Susan Judkins was a lobbyist who worked to increase the amount of money cities could collect from taxpayers.
This statement refers to Judkins' past work for the Iowa League of Cities, which lobbies for local autonomy in many areas of public policy. Whereas the push-poll implies Judkins worked to increase tax collections by cities, more likely she lobbied against state lawmakers' efforts to restrict local taxing authority.
Next the caller read two sets of statements, after which I was supposed to say whether I agreed more with the Judkins or Hagenow position.
Organizations supporting Susan Judkins opposed efforts to cut taxes in order to protect government spending.
Chris Hagenow supports income and property tax relief for businesses, homeowners, and families.
Later, I asked Judkins whether any labor unions have endorsed her candidacy. She has the support of AFSCME, the largest union representing state employees, and the Iowa State Education Association, the largest teacher's union.
Second set of statements:
Susan Judkins supports increasing government spending and borrowing.
Chris Hagenow supports cutting spending and putting money into a tax relief fund.
Judkins did support the I-JOBS infrastructure bonding initiative, which paid for many flood recovery and flood mitigation projects around Iowa. To my knowledge, she has not advocated for any new government borrowing. As for increasing government spending, Judkins agrees with the Democratic position on continuing to fund allowable growth for K-12 education and voluntary pre-school for four-year-olds. It's worth noting that the state's reserve funds are full, and state revenues increased significantly during the last fiscal year. Spending a little more than Iowa did at the low point of the "Great Recession" would not require any additional borrowing or put state operations into a deficit.
After reading the statements about Judkins and Hagenow, the caller again asked whether I would vote for Susan Judkins or Chris Hagenow for Iowa House if the election were held today.
The last few questions were for "statistical purposes" (what's my party ID, do I consider myself liberal/moderate/conservative, what's my first name). The caller did not ask various demographic questions I'd expect to hear at the end of a real opinion poll, such as my race, age, education or income level.
My initial thoughts about the call:
Push-polls used to appear shortly before election day. With more Iowans voting early, I'm not surprised Republicans are trying to spread these messages about Judkins now.
House district 43 contains 7,166 registered Democrats, 8,402 Republicans, and 5,639 no-party voters according to the latest figures from the Secretary of State's office (pdf). I have not seen any internal polling on this race. Based on yesterday's telephone call, I assume Republican polling shows some vulnerability for Hagenow, who should be strongly favored as an incumbent in a GOP-leaning district.
I don't know whether these calls are targeting a broad base of voters, or mainly people considered likely to lean toward Judkins. Only registered Democrats live in our household. If you know whether registered Republicans in House district 43 are also receiving the calls, please post a comment in this thread or send an e-mail to desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com.
Education and social issues were noticeably absent from this push-poll. Whoever paid for these calls must not feel it's in Hagenow's interest to emphasize his repeated votes to eliminate preschool funding and force zero allowable growth on K-12 school budgets. Because certain expenses rise every year, a freeze on local education budgets forces school districts to cut staff or programs.
For most of my lifetime, pro-choice Republicans have represented this part of the Des Moines suburbs. Hagenow is not only anti-choice but also supports a "personhood" bill that could ban certain forms of contraception. He and many other Iowa House Republicans tried to eliminate Medicaid coverage for abortions in case of rape, incest, or fetal abnormalities. Whoever paid for these calls doesn't believe mentioning Hagenow's anti-abortion activism would help him with voters.
Like most Democratic statehouse candidates, Judkins is emphasizing economic issues and education, which is wise. That said, if I were running her campaign, I'd find a way to let no-party and moderate Republican voters know about Hagenow's extreme anti-choice voting record.
The survey also didn't mention Hagenow's repeated votes for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Whoever paid for the calls doesn't believe that issue is going to swing House district 43 voters away from Judkins.
Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.