News & Press: Legal Updates

Utah Passes Law Requiring Disclosure of Sponsorship for Political Polling

Tuesday, April 02, 2013  
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April 2, 2013

Re: Utah Passes Law Requiring Disclosure of Sponsorship for Political Polling       

Last week, Utah House Bill 44 ("HB 44”) was signed into law by Utah’s governor.  While the bill was ostensibly introduced to regulate "push polling,” we believe that instead only legitimate political polling will be truly affected.  The bill was introduced as a reaction to a "push polling” effort against former Utah State Rep. Brad Daw in a Republican primary, in which Rep. Daw was portrayed as being pro-"Obamacare” and subsequently lost.  CASRO aggressively lobbied the sponsor of HB 44, Utah House Majority Whip Rep. Greg Hughes as well as several members of the state Senate to discuss our concerns with the bill.  Unfortunately, we were unable to convince Rep. Hughes to consider a bill that more narrowly focused on the problem of push polling.                

Specifically, HB 44 requires that any person who conducts a poll shall disclose to the person being surveyed who paid for the poll before or at the conclusion of the poll.  The pollster will not be responsible for providing the disclosure in the event that the respondent terminates the survey before the survey is completed.  Under HB 44, a "poll” means "a survey of a person regarding the person’s opinion or knowledge of an individual who has filed a declaration of candidacy for public office, or of a ballot or proposition that has legally qualified for placement on the ballot, which is conducted in person or by telephone, facsimile, Internet, postal mail or email.”  The definition does exclude focus groups of 3 to 13 people.  The multi-modal nature of the requirement is unique and something that is likely going to trip up researchers, especially those that conduct online surveys and are unused to any form of disclosure requirement.  The lone "good news” to report on HB 44 is that the maximum fine for failing to comply with the requirement for a particular study is only $100.  This is in stark contrast to the large fines doled out by New Hampshire in its recent enforcement of its push poll law against legitimate research. 

CASRO opposed HB 44, because we believe it risks changing the nature of the interaction with survey respondents in Utah.   Legitimate polling has long had a respected place in political discourse and decision-making in our country.   We believe that it is because of this reputation that individuals are willing to give researchers their time to participate in polls.   Because of the possibility of introducing bias in the results, sponsorship information likely will not be provided until the end of a survey. If the last thing that respondents hear is that the poll was paid for by a particular candidate, political party or other group, we believe that disclosure may introduce doubt into the mind of the respondent about whether the considerable time they just spent participating in the survey was a legitimate endeavor or whether they were just advertised to.  By forcing a comparison between "push polling” and legitimate polling, we believe that HB 44 impugns the motives of all legitimate polling.

CASRO also believes that the requirement to disclose the sponsor of a legitimate public opinion survey during every call could directly impact the scientific, tactical, and strategic use of survey research in Utah.  Legitimate survey research is used to plan strategy for political campaigns, with the assumption that the public is giving its opinions in an unbiased forum.  With sponsorship information provided on each call, it is more likely that the poll itself could become newsworthy and reveal the likely strategic direction of a political campaign while the poll is still being conducted.                  

The above mentioned New Hampshire push polling law appears likely headed for reform either in this legislative session or next; in part, because the Federal Election Commission found that it was preempted by federal law as applied to federal candidates as well as the realization that the law was missing its mark when being enforced against legitimate research.  We believe it is likely that those willing to undertake the shady practice of push polling will not be persuaded to comply with HB 44 by the relatively light fines imposed, and that the practice will continue in future elections.  As a result, like with New Hampshire, we believe that events of the next couple election cycles will cause a reconsideration of the law by the Utah legislature.  Several other states, notably, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Nevada and West Virginia, currently have tough, targeted push polling laws on the books.

CASRO is hopeful that Utah will ultimately use those states as models for legislation, but for now, the sponsorship of all political research conducted in Utah must be disclosed at the end of such polling. 

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