NEWS27 April 2012

FEC says federal candidates not subject to NH push poll law

Government North America

US— Pollsters carrying out research for federal election candidates should have less to fear from New Hampshire’s problematic push poll regulations after the Federal Election Commission (FEC) issued an advisory opinion stating that federal law supersedes state law.

Commissioners voted 5–1 in favour of the opinion, which says that New Hampshire cannot force federal election candidates to identify themselves when conducting research that fits the state’s loose description of “push polling”.

New Hampshire requires any survey that asks questions about an election candidate’s “character, status, political stance or record” to disclose the name of the survey sponsor. Though the law is designed to catch out push polling – a form of smear tactic masquerading as survey research – professional bodies representing researchers and political consultants say the wording of the law unfairly penalises legitimate message testing work and genuine pollsters won’t disclose their sponsors for fear of biasing survey results.

The FEC opinion was requested by polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, which plans on carrying out research for federal election candidates in the state this year but feared that if it did so, it would end up facing hefty fines like others before it.

Three companies have been caught out by the law in the past 18 months. Mountain West Research reached a $20,000 civil settlement over a poll conducted for a US senate candidate, On Message paid $15,000 for a congressional campaign poll and the New Hampshire Democratic Party was fined $5,000.

New Hampshire’s attorney general is currently suing the Bass Victory Campaign, the organisation supporting US representative Charlie Bass, over a 2010 poll.

Aside from the FEC ruling, there is hope that the law can be amended to protect genuine research. The Marketing Research Association said in March that it had been contacted by the chairman of the New Hampshire House Election Committee offering to work with the organisation to re-write the legislation.