A poll conducted by Barnaby Horton, candidate for 2nd District
State Representative, is drawing criticism from fellow candidates
John Gale and Anthony Gray. Gale and Gray say the poll is an
instance of negative campaigning.
Horton denied the charge of negative campaigning in a statement
released yesterday, August 11, and said the poll was designed
only "to identify supporters and possible supporters and
certain possible issues."
Cynthia Jennings, who is also running in the 2nd District, said
she has heard about the poll but wanted to get more information
about it before making any comment.
The 2nd District seat is currently held by Tom Ritter, who is
not seeking re-election. The district includes the West End,
Asylum Hill and Upper Albany neighborhoods.
In a press release issued on Monday, Gale said the poll is misleading
voters because the pollsters do not state that he or she is working
for a particular candidate and because the poll includes an "attempt
to malign" certain candidates. He also stated that the poll
appears to be "designed to influence the outcome of the
primary on September 15, so it should be considered an election
expense." State law requires that the person or group who
pays for election expenses should be identified.
In his statement, Horton said the poll was "a normal and
expected part of campaigning" and "strictly legal and
consistent with professional standards." He did add that,
with over 2,000 calls placed in the poll, some questions could
have been asked incorrectly and the polling firm's employees
may have made some mistakes and he would accept full responsibility
for any such errors.
Joan Andrews, a staff attorney with the State Election Enforcement
Commission, confirmed that there is no state law prohibiting
such polling tactics.
Shawn Fisher, Horton's Campaign Manager, said he hired a firm
called National Research Service to conduct a poll to gather
general voter identification and issue sensitivity information.
The Hartford News was unable to contact the polling firm. Fisher
said the agreement he'd made with the polling company would not
allow him to divulge the company's phone number or address.
According to Fisher, who supplied The Hartford News with a copy
of the questionnaire that he sent to the polling company, the
pollsters first asked the caller whom they were supporting in
the race for Ritter's seat.
The second question asked whether the caller would be "more
or less likely to support a candidate if you were to learn that:"
followed by one of three statements. Each statement was written
with one of Horton's three opponents in mind, Fisher said, and
described actual incidents from the past. All three statements
refer to negative incidents.
Fisher added that, as far as he knows, the questions were asked
on a completely random basis and not based on which candidate
the caller had said they were supporting.
The final question in the poll asked the caller to rank the candidates
on a scale of one to five (or to respond six if they didn't know
enough to make a decision).
Gray said he objected to the poll because it is designed "not
just to measure public opinion but to skew it...it sounds to
me like a desperate attempt to distract voters from the issues."
Gale said the poll represents "the classic definition of
negative campaigning...it says only negative things about three
candidates." He added that if such polls are legal, "that
seems like a loophole or an oversight to me and if elected I'll
move to close that loophole."
Gale said he first learned about the telephone poll last Wednesday
when several neighbors said they'd been called by a person representing
the National Research Center and asked questions about the campaign.
After learning about the questions asked in the poll, Gale said
he asked some of his supporters that, if they were called by
the pollster, to respond that they were supporting different
candidates in an effort to get a clearer idea of who was conducting
Gale said he himself was polled last Friday and told the pollster
he was supporting Jennings. He was then asked the second question
containing a statement that could be interpreted as reflecting
negatively on Jennings.
Gale supporter David Barrett said he received a call on Thursday
and told the pollster he was supporting Horton. He was then asked
to rate the candidates but not asked the second question containing
the negative statements. Barrett added that he then asked for
more information but both the pollster and his supervisor refused
to say where the polling firm was located or how to get in touch
Michael Gallagher, another Gale supporter, said he received a
polling call on Friday and responded that he was supporting Gray.
He was then asked the second question containing a statement
that could be seen as reflecting negatively on Gray.
Gale said he believes the negative statements contained in the
second question are directly related to which candidate the caller
said they were supporting. Fisher reiterated that no direct connection
between the two questions was intended but probably happened
a number of times purely by chance.
Fisher also denied the charge of negative campaigning and said
that other candidates in the race had been just as negative.
He did add that "knowing now about how people are reacting,
maybe we would have done it [the poll] differently."