Guest Commentary: The Yes on DiSC Campaign Is Using a National Telemarketing Firm to Do ‘Push Poll’ Telephone Solicitations Disguised as Surveys

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The campaign has retained Dynata, a Texas marketing firm, to repeatedly call thousands of Davis voters over and over until the phone is answered.

By Alan Pryor

Who is Dynata?

Numerous Davis citizens have reported receiving a “push poll” survey telephone call concerning the proposed “DiSC 2022” project from a firm headquartered in Plano, Texas whose caller ID otherwise identifies the company as “Dynata” from either Hayward or Oakland in the Bay Area. Dynata (https://www.dynata.com/) is a privately-owned online data collection company owned by two private equity firms, Court Square Capital Management and HGGC. (“DiSC 2022” is a 102-acre proposed mixed use business park that would be constructed on prime farmland outside the current City limits, just north of I-80, the Ikeda fruit stand, and the City water tank, and just east of Mace Blvd.  It will be Measure H on the June ballot).

According to their website, “Dynata, LLC… and their parents, affiliates and subsidiaries world-wide (collectively referred to hereinafter as “Dynata”) provide sampling solutions and technology for survey research, providing clients with access to consumer and business-to-business respondents via internet, telephone (both fixed/landline and wireless/mobile), postal and multi-mode methodologies.”

But the firm is poorly thought of by both consumers and peers in the survey research industry.

According to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynata), “According to the Better Business Bureau online profile for Dynata, the company receives 1.35 of 5 stars. A review of recent reviews on the site indicates that many members of the general public are annoyed by Dynata’s telemarketing practices – Dynata LLC | Better Business Bureau® Profile”. www.bbb.org. Retrieved 2021-09-28.”

What is a “Push Poll”?

According to the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR),  “AAPOR defines a “push poll” as a form of negative campaigning that is disguised as a political poll. “Push polls” are actually political telemarketing — telephone calls disguised as research that aim to persuade large numbers of voters and affect election outcomes, rather than measure opinions…”Push polls” are not surveys at all, but rather unethical political telemarketing — telephone calls disguised as research that aim to persuade large numbers of voters and affect election outcomes, rather than measure opinions. This misuse of the survey method exploits the trust people have in research organizations and violates the AAPOR Code of Professional Ethics and Practices.”

They further state, “Political telemarketing calls, when disguised as research, may sometimes be difficult to differentiate from a legitimate survey.” According to the AAPOR, one characteristic that will usually indicate to a respondent that the call is not a legitimate survey is that the questions are uniformly negative or uniformly positive descriptions of the candidate or issue. In addition, the number of people called in “push polls” is very large, sometimes many thousands, and the calls are not based on a random sample.

Well, that certainly sounds like Dynata’s strategy for their calls made to Davis residents. From talking with several people who have received these “push poll “surveys calls from Dynata on behalf of DiSC, Dynata started calling Davis residents on both their landlines and cell phones about 2 weeks ago. One can understand the frustrations of Davis consumers with Dynata because in some cases the company repeatedly called a phone number beginning from just noon through 7 pm until the phone subscriber eventually answers the call. No voice mail messages were ever left by Dynata on unanswered calls. One Davis-registered voter tracked the following incoming calls from Dynata to their cell phone made within only a few days:

Thursday, February 17:

1:16 pm

2:58 pm

4:35 pm

6:08 pm

6:57 pm

Friday, February 18:

1:57 pm

4:54 pm

Saturday, February 19:

12:25 pm

Some of the Phone Calls are Clearly not in Compliance with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA)

The TCPA ostensibly protects consumers against unwanted telemarketing calls by imposing a variety of restrictions on the hours telemarketers are allowed to dial. However, these limitations do not impact unscrupulous market research companies because the stated intention of their telephone calls is not a solicitation but simply a survey of consumers preferences and/or intentions. Companies like Dynata attempt to circumvent the TCPA by performing a “push poll” (explained above).

As seen in excerpted summaries of the push poll questions presented below, the questions presented to Davis voters were clearly uniformly biased toward obtaining a positive response and influencing public attitudes toward DiSC.

Additionally the TCPA imposes further restrictions such as prohibiting calls to cell phones and land-lines that are listed on the “Do Not Call” registry and stipulating that no call may be made from a system that has the capability to automatically dial to any consumer’s cellular telephone without that consumer’s express and explicit consent to do so.

These restrictions are obviously not being adhered to by Dynata because one person reported receiving 8 unanswered calls on their cell phone (again with no message left) with the caller variously identified as “Dynata – Hayward” or “Dynata – Oakland” on their incoming call logs. This particular cell phone owner said no explicit permission has ever been given to any telemarketers or survey firms allowing such calls to be directed toward their cell phones.

The Nature of the Push Poll Conducted by Dynata

These calling onslaughts are also directed to both cellular and land-line phones with multiple users reporting receiving numerous such calls before they finally answered. When one user finally picked up and asked the caller from where the call was made, they were informed that the caller was in Texas even though the caller ID identified the origin of the call as from the East Bay.

Others have also reported receiving multiple calls with no messages left and the calls continued at the rate of several per day until the line is finally picked up. One user asked if they could record the call (permission is required for call recording in California) but the caller abruptly hung up.

When recipients of such calls finally did pick up and respond, they were asked for the person in whose name the landline is registered. If that person is not available, they then ask the name of the person to whom they were speaking.

I should note that the recipients of these calls from Dynata all indicated that the callers were polite and professional as compared to other aggressive telemarketing boiler-room operations also simultaneously conducted by Spafford and Lincoln under the auspices of an independent PAC. These calls use paid student interns posing as “volunteers” as will be discussed in a follow-up article.

The following notes on the calls from Dynata are a compilation of the “survey” calls as reported by two recipients who took abbreviated hand-written notes during the conversation but did not record the calls. As a result, although the recipients indicated the reported questions and answers accurately reflect the nature of the call, they were not the exact wording of the questions nor the answer choices offered. Most of the questions about the DiSC project were multiple choice questions with some asking for simple “Yes” or “No” or “Agree” or “Disagree” answers.

Initially, the Dynata callers did indicate they were soliciting opinions on the DiSC project which they identified by the project’s full name and said the questions to be asked would be focused on the project’s impacts on community values, sustainability, and providing opportunities for everyone.

The first question asked whether the recipient knew about the DiSC project and, if so,  what the recipient thought about DiSC with available answers ranging from “very appealing” to “very unappealing”.

The next question asked if the recipient agreed or disagreed that the DiSC project was exciting and interesting and that DiSC would be a place to “live, work and play”.

They were also asked if they agreed or disagreed with the statement that DiSC would be a place where UCD and or companies could be located to perform research about food and trying to “solve the world food and hunger problem.” Another question asked if they agreed or disagreed with the statement that locating DiSC so close to UC Davis was advantageous for the project.

Other questions attempted to get more personal information about the call recipient’s views on traffic including how often they drove (once a day?, once a week?, etc.) and if they were concerned about traffic (very concerned, slightly concerned?, etc.).

These led to more leading questions about traffic such as if recipient agreed that traffic will be improved for DiSC by adding an electric shuttle service, planned improvements (not specified) to Mace Blvd, and by adding HOV lanes to the I-80 freeway through Davis and across the Causeway. Call recipients were also asked if they agreed or disagreed that adding native habitat to the project was desirable as well as if they agreed or disagreed that having onsite restaurants, shopping, etc. at the project was convenient for residents and employees.

Another leading question was if the call recipient agreed or disagreed that it was beneficial that DiSC would produce income to the city so that taxes would not have to be raised to provide essential services such as police and fire protection and fixing streets, etc.

They were also a few general interest questions asked to gauge the recipient’s sentiments, such as if they thought Davis’ “best days” were ahead or in the past.

At the end of the poll, recipients were asked personal questions that each had 5 possible answers including job/work or retired status, age range, how long they had lived in Davis, home rental or ownership status, and their name.

The Threat of “Push Polls” – Political Telemarketing Under the Guise of Research” (published by the AAPOR)

The professional research survey firm trade group, AAPOR, has made extensive statements on “push polls” (see https://www.aapor.org/Standards-Ethics/Resources/AAPOR-Statements-on-Push-Polls.aspx), including the following,

Political advocacy calls made under the guise of a survey abuse the public’s trust. They gain the attention of respondents under false pretenses by taking advantage of the good will people have toward legitimate research.

When disguised as research, these calls create negative images of legitimate surveys, especially when they distort issues or candidate characteristics in order to influence opinion.

They go beyond the ethical boundaries of political polling by bombarding voters with distorted or even false statements in an effort to manufacture negative attitudes.

The hostility created in this way affects legitimate surveys by reducing the public’s willingness to cooperate with future survey requests.

AAPOR Position on So-Called “Push Polls”

  • AAPOR Councils have repeatedly warned members and the public about the harm done by unethical political telemarketing that is conducted under the guise of research.
  • The AAPOR Code identifies fraudulent political polling as unethical conduct. The Code states: “We will not misrepresent our research or conduct other activities (such as sales, fundraising, or political campaigning) under the guise of conducting research” [section I.A.2.].
  • AAPOR has reacted to complaints about suspected “push polls” and conducted investigations.
  • AAPOR urges its members and the media to uncover instances of political telemarketing under the guise of research and help us alert the public promptly when these fraudulent political polls occur.

Conclusions

It is clear that the “survey” conducted by Dynata on behalf of the proponents of DiSC fall within the classic definition of “push polls” according to the AAPOR and may violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 by using auto-dialers for calls made to cell phones without the explicit permission of cell phone users.

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About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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22 thoughts on “Guest Commentary: The Yes on DiSC Campaign Is Using a National Telemarketing Firm to Do ‘Push Poll’ Telephone Solicitations Disguised as Surveys”

  1. David Greenwald

    Having read the full description and Alan’s best recitation of the questions, this is not a push poll.  Without the precise text of the questions it is hard to tell, but from Alan’s description it seems biased and perhaps leading, but that’s not what a push poll is.

    A push poll actually provides people with snippets of information and then determines whether that information causes them to change their vote.  Typical structure will have a pre-survey and post-survey temperature gauge on the main issue.  That’s not what this poll did.  It appears to be a poll hired by the campaign probably to assess voter viewpoints.  I wouldn’t take the numbers to the bank, but it doesn’t appear, as described to be a push poll.

    1. David Greenwald

      Compare that to the wording of the Binder Research Poll on SB 9: “Opposition increases to 71% for SB 9 and 75% for SB 10 after voters learn more about those bills.” That’s a push poll. They actually accessed what happens when voters learn given pieces of information and then they report out the pushed out result. That’s not what the poll Alan cites is doing.

  2. Bill Marshall

    Now, it would be a real ‘public service’ if the numbers were shared, to be blocked… but rather, the author is trying to do a negative campaigning piece himself.

    Thinking the H-word is operative.

  3. Keith Y Echols

    That’s an awfully long article to say you don’t like telemarketers or the project.

    I got a call from them the other day.  They asked me if I was familiar with the project; I laughed and said yes and that I was leaning just a little towards supporting DISC but a telemarketing call could easily push me to oppose it.  They quickly apologized and hung up.

    If they really want to irritate me, they should spam me with political text messages/polls (I dislike text messages in general).  I first started to notice this trend about 6-7 years ago.  What idiotic Millennial or Z kid thought it was a good idea to text spam people about political campaigns?

    1. David Greenwald

      “That’s an awfully long article to say you don’t like telemarketers or the project.”

      I had a similar thought when I saw this.

      “What idiotic Millennial or Z kid thought it was a good idea to text spam people about political campaigns?”

      Market research tells you to hammer people and not worry about pissing off a few on the margins. Being able to reach a broader mass of people cheaply is more important than the very few that will actually voted against something based on a few text messages. Besides most of the time, you can opt out.

      1. Keith Y Echols

        The question is why did they apologize and hang up when you said their call might change your vote from a ‘yes’ to a ‘no’?   Were they advocating for DiSC?

        I suspect they were advocating for DISC.  They either ended the call out of courtesy or to not further iterate me and change my vote to a oppose it.

    2. Keith Olson

      I laughed and said yes and that I was leaning just a little towards supporting DISC but a telemarketing call could easily push me to oppose it.  They quickly apologized and hung up.

      The question is why did they apologize and hang up when you said their call might change your vote from a ‘yes’ to a ‘no’?   Were they advocating for DiSC?

       

  4. Alan Pryor

    Market research tells you to hammer people and not worry about pissing off a few on the margins.

    Well it seems the Yes on DiSC campaign has fully embraced this strategy.

  5. Alan Pryor

    “What idiotic Millennial or Z kid thought it was a good idea to text spam people about political campaigns?”

    That would be Spafford and Lincoln located on Olive Dr. – much more details to come in a forthcoming article on questionable telemarketing techniques by them using paid “volunteer” interns.

  6. Richard_McCann

    They called my number thinking it was my wife (her name is on the cell phone bill). Unlike a standard poll where the pollster walks through a script, we had a conversation. First question was whether I was familiar with the project and I informed her I was in the NRC and had reviewed the project. She then stepped into a short discussion about how I viewed the project and what would persuade me to vote for it. I got the impression is was more of a campaign call rather than a poll, which is just fine with me. I would seriously doubt if there were any poll results published from this, but they may have gotten much more information from that call than a bunch of numbers.

    Given how many of us on this page received a call, I wondering if it was targeted to reach the most vocal in the community on the issue.

    1. Keith Olson

      Given how many of us on this page received a call, I wondering if it was targeted to reach the most vocal in the community on the issue.

      Yeah, I’m sure that was it.

        1. Alan Miller

          When using an auto-dialer that calls multiple numbers a once?  It would be quite easy to reach the whole of Davis.

          So instead they made a list of everyone who regularly comments in the Davis Vanguard, writes letters to the editor, and speaks at Council and commission meetings?

          Well, there’s a short list.

    2. Dave Hart

      I’m not that vocal and certainly don’t have any influence and I got at least six calls on my cell as well as four or five on the landline.  But I was intrigued that a spam caller would use an apparent company name “Dynata” that could theoretically be tracked.  I then concluded it was a bogus name and not legitimate.  Mystery solved!

  7. Alan Miller

    Here is how I deal with telemarketers (this includes surveys, and any other call that is not from a friend or a business that I have a relationship with that has reason for them to call me).  Note:  this only works on live human beings.  About 95% of the calls I receive today are from recordings/robots.

    “Hello, is Alan Miller?”

    “That’s not how this works.  You identify yourself first.”

    “This is Amy.  I work for Lucifer’s Telemarketing and Polling Incorporated of Plano, Texas”

    “No you’re not.”

    “What?”

    “Maybe you are, but I have no business relationship with you, so why should I believe someone who calls me, interrupts my day, and tells me who they are?”

    “Um, well I am . . . ”

    “Do you mean when you call people and tell them who you are, they believe you?”

    “Yes”

    “How many express doubt?”

    “You’re the only one sir.”

    “Well, everyone you called is a fool.  Do you believe people are who they say they are when someone calls you who you don’t know?”

    “Um . . . yes, I guess.”

    “Well, then you are a fool too.  Here’s a word of advice, never trust anyone who calls you unsolicited who you don’t already have a business relationship with.  Assume either  they are lying to you or trying to scam you.”

    “Um . . . OK.  Do you want to take the poll?”

    “No.  Bye.”

    The “volunteer” (as they stated) clearly had no idea how to deal with me, but regardless seemed way in over her depth.

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