Republican Jewish group conducted anti-Obama poll

The group's head says the poll, which asked unusually negative questions, was aimed at "understand[ing] why Barack Obama continues to have a problem among Jewish voters."

Published September 17, 2008 12:07AM (EDT)

This week, reports began bubbling up about Jewish voters in potential battleground states being called and asked to participate in a poll that featured some unusually negative questions about Barack Obama. Those reports were confirmed when The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn received a call. Now the Republican Jewish Coalition is taking responsibility for the survey.

Some observers -- including Cohn -- initially believed that what was happening is what's known as a push poll. Push polls aren't real polls; they're conducted by people who aren't interested in actually judging voters' opinion so much as they're interested in moving it, and use loaded questions to do so.

Certainly the questions used in this case seemed to have been designed with that in mind. For example, Cohn reported that he was asked whether it would affect his vote if he knew that "Obama has had a decade long relationship with pro-Palestinian leaders in Chicago" or if he knew that "the leader of Hamas, Ahmed Yousef, expressed support for Obama and his hope for Obama's victory."

It seems, however, that this wasn't a push poll -- it was just testing some very, very negative messages. At Talking Points Memo, David Kurtz wrote:

[T]he reports that have come in so far suggest that these are not push polls but actual public opinion surveys... The easiest way to tell which is which is by how long the call lasts. If you're trying to reach a large number of voters, you keep the calls short and dirty: plant the seed of the smear and move on; otherwise, the costs of phone calls becomes prohibitive. The accounts so far are of calls that last upwards of 15 minutes.

Tuesday night, Politico's Ben Smith broke the news that the Republican Jewish Committee was behind for the calls. Matt Brooks, the executive director of the group, told Smith that the poll was message testing for a campaign the RJC plans to launch against Obama. The group commissioned the survey in order to "understand why Barack Obama continues to have a problem among Jewish voters," Brooks said.

Actually, as Salon's Mike Madden reported earlier this year, Obama doesn't really seem to have a problem with Jewish voters. But if the messages the RJC was trying out in this survey are any indication, Republicans are clearly hoping to create one for him.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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