Marketing phone poll targets Arnold campaign
April 3, 2016
By DANIEL BLACKBURN
An expensive and anonymous telephone poll aimed at voters in San Luis Obispo County’s District 5 attempts to discredit incumbent Supervisor Debbie Arnold with a series of carefully-crafted questions.
Arnold’s opponent, Eric Michielssen, told radio station KPRL that he had no knowledge of sponsors of the so-called “push poll.” Arnold had no comment.
The phone calls went out last week at dinner time from Mountain West Research Center and lasted about 20 minutes each.
A push poll, according to a Wikipedia definition, is “an interactive marketing technique, most commonly employed during political campaigning, in which an individual or organization attempts to influence or alter the view of voters under the guise of conducting a poll.”
A push poll contacts many voters in a specific area, and make “little or no effort” to collect real data. Rather, it is “a form of telemarketing-based propaganda and rumor mongering, masquerading as a poll. Push polls may rely on innuendo or knowledge gleaned from opposition research on an opponent,” according to Wikipedia.
Questions posed to voters suggested the county may have “gotten off track,” then zeroed in on Arnold’s record while appearing to extol personal qualities of Michielssen.
The pollster referred to Arnold as being “in the pocket of special interests.” It also implied Arnold “has offered no real solution for protecting the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin,” and that she supports the “bailout of big agriculture.” The pollster then asked the phone call recipient for an opinion of the incumbent.
The bogus poll weighed in heavily on issues regarding the recent defeat of a proposed water district to manage the Paso Robles underground water basin, asking for opinions on how the basin’s management would be financed.
The question hinted that Arnold, who is in favor of local control, was supporting the most expensive alternative:
Thinking of the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin, which has been experiencing ‘critical shortages’ in recent years, how do you think it should be managed?
(A) By the county, along with the four other groundwater basins, with money collected from county taxpayers.
(B) Turned over to the state to manage, paid for by statewide tax dollars.
(C) Form a new water district and manage the basin with money from taxpayers who live over the basin.
While the question correctly listed the three alternatives, it also included unsupported statements. For example, reports that the Paso Robles basin is in critical overdraft were questioned in January by San Jose Superior Court Judge Peter Kirwan.
In addition, the question said if the state takes over the management of the basin, the cost would paid through statewide tax dollars. However, according to the act if the state takes over management of the basin it can recover its cost from locals.
As part of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014, the state can take over management of a basin if local officials fail to comply to the act’s requirements.
The first part of the act requires that by June 30, 2017, the county creates a groundwater sustainability agency. This is likely to include all the water companies that get water from the basin and county representatives. Then, depending on the basin, the groundwater sustainability agency must develop a compliant plan by either 2020 or 2022.
Opponents of the special district, rejected by 77 percent of voters in March, believed the approximately $1 million a year cost for a special district was significantly higher than it would cost the county to develop a plan to manage the county’s five basins.
The 19-question poll ended with a inquiry about race: Do you consider yourself of Hispanic, Latin American or Mexican ethnicity?