Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Push Poll Madness

Both the Advertiser and the Advocate carry stories today on the ongoing Push Poll Madness. What needs to be said upfront is that I'm pretty sure that the fellows over at Cox and BellSouth are pretty disconcerted. By all accounts--and much of my take on this comes from laughing phone calls last night, personal emails, and emails distributed to Lafayette Coming Together members, not the papers' take alone. I heard stories of both the pollsters and the people called giggling over the water "rationing" question conspiratorially. A woman said she told a supervisor that she ought be ashamed of herself and her client too. You can just imagine the virtual finger wagging. People are not afraid. They're peeved and angry. But they are also straight-out amused. And that is neither expected nor welcomed by the folks who paid big bucks in an ongoing project to scare most of Lafayette. You don't win elections by playing the fool (not even in Lousiana).

It may turn out that our biggest asset in the storm to come is our ability to find humor in almost anything. And, as well, to not take our opponents too seriously (or ourselves, for that matter).

The articles in both papers are fun to read because they reflect much of the humor with which the recipients of the calls responded.

On the tone of the poll, and its intent—

From the Advertiser:
"Everything was negative about LUS and positive about Cox and BellSouth," Ringo said. "It was just a paid political announcement pushing you to think LUS is bad and everybody else is good. It's not fair marketing, and I told the lady she should be ashamed."
From the Advocate:

Ringo, who does marketing in the oil and gas industry, said he didn't see how the questions asked in the poll would actually be useful to judge public opinion.

Ringo called the poll a "push poll," advertising disguised as a public opinion poll meant to sway opinion rather than measure it.

"It is a scare tactic," Ringo said.

On the nature of the poll, mixed feelings:

From the Advertiser:

The pollster also said "that since LUS rations water, how would you feel about receiving cable only a few days a week," Lavergne said.

"I couldn't finish. I was laughing too hard toward the end," he said. "It was interesting all the different angles they played, like if they asked enough questions and played enough angles they were bound to get something you're angry with the city about."

From the Advocate:

Resident Kioke Ringo said he was offended by the questions he was asked when called Monday night.

"I kind of got upset because they were pushing me into a philosophy of being anti-LUS by the very nature of the questions," Ringo said Tuesday
Let me speak up for a little righteous anger in addition to the amusement. This stuff is funny. It's hard to treat it seriously; it's hard to imagine why Cox thought this was a good idea. (Or for that matter, how formerly reputable pollster Verne Kennedy decided to field this thing. He used to have a good reputation and his political savvy was considered his chief asset.) But the truth is that Cox did not intend for this to be funny and that both companies are putting out the same bilge about water for their employees to distribute.

Somebody important thought that the people of Lafayette were easily scared -- and very stupid. They don't believe any of this gradu about water rationing or religious programming themselves. You can imagine the broad smiles and giggles around the boardroom table as they came up with this stuff. No, they don't believe any of it. But they did believe that it was the "smart" thing to do because, without a doubt in their mind to slow them down, they thought people of this city would fall far it. My guess is that the same people who designed the "down-home" Cox ad currently running on cable that uses an actor putting on an Arkansas accent was thought up around the same table.

We ought to be angry as well as amused. And I think we can manage both things at the same time.

And nobody, nobody at all, should be using tactics like this. It inevitably taints the reputation of those who benefit. And the evidence is in. First last summer and then again this week, it is pretty clear that in Lafayette, at least, the cost is far, far higher than benefit. As it should be.

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