NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s Democratic Party has had a difficult summer. First came the Brawl at City Hall. Then came the Republicans’ “in-your-face” move of nominating registered Democrat Bruce Kimmel for re-election to the Common Council. Kimmel, elected in 2011 as a Democrat, told his party caucus to take a hike and jumped to the Republican caucus, citing the Dems’ behavior as getting in the way of governing the city.
Now we have an allegation from a registered Democrat that one of the mayoral candidates is using a “push poll” to plant negatives thoughts about his opponents – especially former Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling.
A push poll is defined as “a seemingly unbiased telephone survey that is actually conducted by supporters of a particular candidate and disseminates negative information about an opponent.”
According to the source, who requested anonymity, “This poll is automated and going out over one or two days to most likely Democratic voters. That’s how it works.”
The source, who received one of the calls, said, “After the routine ‘who would you vote for,’ the questions being asked are skewed toward negatives — clearly an effort to find which negatives resonate in preparation for his mailing pieces. This points to a continuation of his negative campaign.”
The source gave some examples of questions:
• How would it affect your vote if a candidate were friendly with the mayor?
• Would you vote for a candidate who changed his political party?
• How would it affect your vote if a candidate signed a pledge to uphold the principles of the Democratic Party ?
• Do you support the old leadership or favor new leadership in Norwalk?
But is this really a push poll?
A story by Rachel Weiner in The Washington Post points out that, sometimes, such questions are not meant as propaganda or negative messaging. Weiner was writing about a poll conducted in Kentucky by then-prospective Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, who was considering a challenge to incumbent Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“Many legitimate polls — including some of those done by the candidate’s own campaigns — test negative messages within the context of divining the proper strategy and messaging to adopt in a race,” she wrote, citing a passage from the American Association for Public Opinion Research website.
“Negative or disturbing information about a candidate does not automatically make a survey a push poll,” AAPOR President Nancy Mathiowetz said in a 2007 statement. “Message testing, when campaigns test the effectiveness of possible messages about opponents and even themselves, is very different; and it is a legitimate form of surveying.”
With only 26 days left before the primary election, Rilling and Vinny Mangiacopra are considered the frontrunners. They have raised more money than Matt Miklave and Andy Garfunkel – a lot more. They were the first to gain enough signatures to get on the ballot. Miklave and Garfunkel have a lot of ground to make up.
The Norwalk source pointed the finger at Mangiacopra for the poll, claiming he has been running a negative campaign and is gearing up to continue because, “He doesn’t have a record of his own to run on.”
“We are definitely not doing a push poll,” Mangiacopra campaign worker Will Sharry said Tuesday. But he would not comment on whether the campaign was doing a poll or if, indeed, the questions cited were part of any such poll.
“We don’t discuss strategies with reporters,” he said.
Democratic Town Party Chairwoman Amanda Brown said she could not comment.
“I am not aware of any polls being done, ‘push’ or otherwise,” she said.
This is the kind of sniping and infighting that Brown – who, ironically, was at the center of the Brawl at City Hall – was hoping to avoid as the Dems try for the fifth time to defeat Republican Richard Moccia.
At an event May 5, Brown told the candidates and an assembled crowd, “Unified we win. Divided, Dick Moccia wins.”
By June 17, she seemed to accept that there would be some battling, but said that would all be in the past after the primary.
“We are going to have a contentious primary,” she said. “I already see it coming, and if you don’t see it coming you should really take off the rose-colored glasses. We know it’s going to be hard and we know it’s going to be heated.”
The question is, will feelings be ruffled so much that the candidates – or, worse, their supporters – will walk away from the eventual nominee? Will the “undecideds” be turned off by yet more of what they see is the Democrats’ inability to get their act together?
The last thing the eventual Democratic candidate needs is to have to rehab his own reputation with Democratic and independent voters while trying to unseat a four-term incumbent with a reputation for smelling blood in the water.
(Mark Chapman is the editor of NancyOnNorwalk.com)