Republicans push-polling for Hagenow in Iowa House district 43

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 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

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.

About the Author(s)


  • Sixweekssixvotes

    Thanks for taking such detailed notes. Very interesting report. It’s good to see such a sophisticated understanding of tactics from a citizen journalist type. You may wish to define the term “push-polling” in your post though.  

    • Mark Blumenthal

      defined it well on his old Mystery Pollster blog.

      A push poll is not a poll at all but rather a form of fraud – an effort to spread an untrue or salacious rumor under the guise of legitimate research.  “Push pollsters” are not pollsters at all.  They do not care about collecting data or measuring opinions (even in a “bogus” way).  They only care about calling as many people as possible to spread a false or malicious rumor without revealing their true intent.  

      Will add to the post.

  • Voters deserve a

    Push poll definition: “The use of loaded questions in a supposedly objective telephone opinion poll during a political campaign in order to bias voters against an opposing candidate.” To voters in HD43 who are receiving calls from Opinionology (mine came from 801-823-2034 — which is a nonworking number if you try to call them back), I suggest you do a little research on this company. Think about why the calls started on the day early voting began. This blog does a good job of straightening the record about some of the false characterizations made on the call — thanks.

  • Judkins

    I doubt Judkins would push a repeal of right to work.  Let me go ahead and say thing.  I live in a community which is still fairly heavily unionized, but I also know of several small manufacturing firms who do say that the right to work law does help survive, its up to us to decide whether they are telling the truth or not.  

    • I don't think the data support

      right to work laws, although they may benefit companies by helping to keep wages down.

      In any event, the Iowa legislature is not going to repeal Iowa’s right to work law. They couldn’t even get prevailing wage through the Iowa House in 2009 with a 56-44 Democratic majority. It was a heavy lift to pass the collective bargaining law Culver vetoed. Repealing right to work would be much more difficult.

  • Wondering

    Don’t some campaigns do issue research that sound like a poll, but is really an effort to determine which issues might resonate in a particular campaign? The results would be used to inform campaign materials, such as mailings.

    That would be different than a push poll would it not?  I’m not saying that is what happened here…just wondering…

    • yes

      There are legitimate message-testing polls. For example, this one Leonard Boswell’s campaign ran in early 2008, facing a Democratic primary against Ed Fallon, or the one Doug Gross’ 527 group commissioned looking ahead to the 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

      Note that the poll commissioned by Boswell’s campaign in early 2008 was testing messages that Fallon was likely to use against Boswell. In other words, they were gathering information that would inform their campaign strategy. They were not using a fake poll to spread damaging messages about Fallon late in the game, like the call I received targeting Judkins.

      A real poll surveys a random sample (usually several hundred to a thousand people) and collects relevant demographic data from the respondents. A push-poll like this one is just trying to push out information to as many people as possible.

  • Push polls in my area

    I received two push polls. The first, on August 7, was directed against Dan Muhlbauer (D) who is running for re-election in House district 12: Audubon Co., Carroll Co., and the east 1/2 of Crawford Co. Dan was elected in 2010 to the seat formerly held by Rod Roberts (R). It was the only house seat to switch from R to D. Dan’s opponent this year is Barney Bornhoft. The push poll was conducted by Opinionology, the same Orem, Utah-based company you described.

    The second push poll, on August 21, was directed against Mary Bruner (D). She is running for state senate district 6. It’s an open seat formerly held by Steve Kettering (R). Mary is running against Mark Segebart (R). The district includes Muhlbauer’s counties plus Sac and Buena Vista. It came from the same source and phone number that did the survey about Dan Muhlbauer

    (I will email the details).

  • This is not push-polling at all

    What you described is a legitimate poll, and the very type all competent campaigns on both sides conduct.

    Yes those “message-testing questions” are loaded, but that’s the point, to see if the message works on respondents in a poll as a precursor to using them, or not, in public campaigning.

    That call was not designed to influence your vote, but to test whether a random sample of voters could be influenced by the suggestive questions they asked you.  The questions they asked you were legitimate polling questions, your answers to which they properly recorded and later used along with everyone else’s.

    Actual push-polling is quite unusual, and as Blumenthal described it, not designed to draw your answers to any questions at all.