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Elise Patkotak: Push poll is a nudge to the answer it seeks

Not meaning to panic you too much but the push polls are apparently here and there are still six months until the next election. Yet here they are, push polls that make me want to push my fist through the phone.

I try to cooperate with polls because I figure the people calling need to make a living and if someone's opinion is going to be registered, why not mine? That sense of civic responsibility lasts until the first question that makes it clear it's not really a poll as much as a way to snake a specific thought into my brain, or get me to answer a question the way they want so whoever is funding the poll can say the people are behind them. So far this season, it seems to be mainly Republicans doing push polls here but I'm sure the Democrats will catch up.

As an example of what we can expect, let's take a gander at a "poll" I was called about last week. The first few questions were innocuous enough to loll anyone into a false sense of security. They revolved around opening ANWR and developing the Pebble mine. But suddenly we took a left turn and the questions became, let's say, somewhat pointed. One question asked if I was worried about the thousands of jobs Alaska will lose if the Pebble mine isn't developed. Hmmm ... seems to me you can't "lose" jobs that don't yet exist. Also seems to me that the wording of the question left little room for any answer but one. How could any Alaskan not be worried about that? Of course, that assumes the statement is true, which is at the very least open to question. Since not one question asked if I was worried about the fisheries jobs that would be lost if Pebble messed up Bristol Bay, I have to wonder why we only focused on one aspect of the issue. Who really knows how many jobs will be lost or created? I'm pretty much flying by the seat of my pants on that, not unlike the poll.

The question that pushed me over the top started with the words, "Do you think the EPA's liberal agenda. ..." A non-push poll might ask if someone thought the EPA's agenda was too liberal, too conservative or just right. Dangle the word liberal as a given in front of the initials EPA and far too many Alaskans start to get all squirrely and crazed. They'll oppose anything that follows.

My favorite questions begin with statements like, "Don't you think Alaskans deserve. ..." Whatever it is that Alaskans deserve, believe me when I tell you that the next question will be whether you would vote for Candidate X, Y or Z if you knew he or she opposed what you just agreed Alaskans deserve. They never actually say that Candidate X, Y or Z opposes it. They just plant that little seed of doubt and move on.

American politics have never been particularly nice. From the beginning, duels occurred, newspapers printed anything necessary to get their candidates elected, and lies and insinuations were a normal part of the process. And not just in New Jersey, though we like to think we perfected the process.

With instant access to more information that anyone can possibly absorb, rumors and innuendoes now move with the speed of light, planting a little seed that takes root almost unnoticed but affects our view of an issue or candidate. The purpose of a push poll is just that. They suggest things that may or may not be true and ask how you feel about them. The seed has been planted.

The ultimate master of this game, Karl Rove, questioned whether Hillary Clinton has brain damage based on glasses she was wearing and a (erroneous) claim of how many days she spent in the hospital after a fall. He is planting a seed he hopes will grow to a niggling doubt. No truth need be involved. Just plant the seed and hope it blooms.

Like making sausage, making democracy work is not pretty to watch. But it would be nice if we at least aspired to a more ethical approach. Until then, be careful when your phone rings. You can never know what new piece of untruth will be pushed into your brain.

Elise Patkotak's latest book, "Coming Into the City," is available at AlaskaBooksandCalendars.com and at local bookstores.

 


Elise Patkotak