Although political races are often a hotbed for lies, allegations, and false rumors, anecdotal reports surfacing in South Carolina indicate barriers may have been crossed in the current congressional race between first-timer Elizabeth Colbert Busch and former governor Mark Sanford.
According to The Atlantic Wire, pollsters have been calling residents of the Palmetto State ahead of next Tuesday’s vote and insinuating that Colbert Busch had previously undergone an abortion.
One such resident, April Wolford, told ThinkProgress she received a call from someone who identified as a pollster and went on to ask her the following questions:
-What would you think of Elizabeth Colbert Busch if I told you she had had an abortion?
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-What would you think of Elizabeth Colbert Busch if I told you a judge held her in contempt of court at her divorce proceedings?
-What would you think of Elizabeth Colbert Busch if she had done jail time?
It’s certainly worth noting that none of these questions actually have any direct relevance to Colbert Busch. Rather, the questions were likely broached to voters in a method known as push polling – which can be effectively summarized as an attempt to negatively influence voters and/or introduce defamatory rumors into the political conversation.
Kathy Frankovic, Director of Surveys for CBS News, outlined the idea behind push polls in a 2009 interview:
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“A push poll is political telemarketing masquerading as a poll. No one is really collecting information. No one will analyze data. You can tell a push poll be because it is very short, even too short,” she explained. “It will not include any demographic questions. The ‘interviewer’ will sometimes ask to speak to a specific voter by name. And, of course, a push poll will contain negative information – sometimes truthful, sometime not, about the opponent.”
At this preliminary stage, it’s unclear how such defamatory questions will effect Colbert Busch ahead of next Tuesday’s election. Push polls create the biggest impact when they reach a large audience, and, at this point, it’s unknown how many residents received similar questions from pollsters.
As if the current race didn’t need any additional controversy, Sanford made national headlines in 2009 after he disappeared for about a week in June while governor of South Carolina. Although he had told friends and family he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, it was eventually discovered that he was having an extramarital affair with a woman in Argentina.
After refusing to resign from his position as governor because it would be “the easy way out,” Sanford was unanimously censured – or given strong disapproval – by the House Judiciary Committee in December of 2009.