Oregon pollster may have run afoul of law


A veteran Oregon pollster for Republican candidates may have run afoul of New Hampshire election law for a survey to determine how voters view Mitt Romney and his Mormon faith.

The New Hampshire attorney general's office has subpoenaed the records of Moore Information in Portland to determine if pollster Bob Moore met the New Hampshire requirements for presidential primary polling or whether it crossed over the line to a form of campaigning known as "push polling."

Moore was traveling Friday and could not be reached for comment.

But his office released a statement Friday that said the poll was a standard survey conducted with accepted methodology and a scientific sample size.

"In 27 years of business, Moore Information has never, currently does not, nor will it ever engage in push polling," the Portland firm said in the statement.

The company that Moore Information hired to actually take the poll, Western Wats of Orem, Utah, also said in a statement issued Friday that it "has never, currently does not, nor will it ever engage in push polling."

New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte began investigating after complaints that the poll asked questions critical of Romney while appearing to support rival Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

Officials of both campaigns said Friday they were not involved in the poll but had asked for an investigation.

Multnomah County Presiding Judge Jean Kerr Maurer has scheduled a 2 p.m. hearing on Jan. 16 in Portland to determine whether Moore must identify the sponsor of the poll.

Jim Kennedy, a New Hampshire assistant attorney general, said that push polls are not illegal in New Hampshire but the sponsor must be disclosed.

"You can say whatever you want about anybody" in a political race, Kennedy said, "we just require that you disclose who's making the push poll."

He noted the New Hampshire push poll law does not apply to the state primary election, which draws national attention because it is the first one held in the country. But it does apply to the general election in November.

"Certainly this could be a poll that could be construed as message testing for the general election, and there the statute does apply," Kennedy said.

On its Web site, the American Association for Public Opinion Research calls a push poll "an insidious form of negative campaigning" that amounts to "unethical political telemarketing &

telephone calls disguised as research that aim to persuade large numbers of voters and affect election outcomes, rather than measure opinions."

But the AAPOR also notes that political campaigns routinely conduct "message testing" polls that may contain negative information about one or more candidates to help determine campaign strategy or the effectiveness of political advertising.

Typically, push poll calls will be made to thousands of households with no recording of the response.

Unlike push polls, message testing polls use the same techniques of legitimate surveys, including limited random samples ranging from about 400 to 1,500 interviews with carefully recorded responses and demographic characteristics.

Robert Daves of Daves and Associates Research in Minneapolis, the past president of the AAPOR, said that sensitive questions about topics such as religion can be viewed as negative by some survey participants but can be helpful in sorting out voter attitudes and directing campaign resources.

"A responsible researcher should have an ethical commitment to provide his or her client with the best information possible to make strategic decisions," Daves said.

He noted the 400 people surveyed for Moore Information was a standard random sample size, and the format appeared to follow industry practice.

But Daves noted he had not seen the actual questions, which were not released by the polling firms.

"If the questions are biased or don't get meaningful responses, then it's certainly a problem with the research," Daves said.

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