Polling flap in Senate district

A question of who is behind a “push poll” allegedly circulating in the 26th State Senate District has caused a stir.

A push poll is “an ostensible opinion poll in which the true objective is to sway voters using loaded or manipulative questions.”

It is not clear how many of these calls may have been made, but incumbent Sen. Toni Boucher, a Republican, claimed in a Sept. 19 Facebook post that her opponent’s campaign is behind them.

Her opponent, Democrat Will Haskell, pushed back on Sept. 21, saying neither he nor his campaign is behind anything of the sort.

In her post, Boucher said she was told “by friends the opposition is conducting a push poll. This is when they make calls and ask — ‘would you vote for Toni Boucher if you knew all these bad things about her?’ When they cannot find anything, they just make things up to make a candidate look bad.”

Boucher told The Bulletin of two supporters who received such calls, one of whom wished to remain anonymous. The Bulletin reached out to Michele Tivey of Weston, who said she received a call on Sept. 21 from “a very nice older gentleman” who said he was taking a survey. Her cell phone indicated the call was coming from a Bridgeport number. According to her phone, she was on the call for 13 minutes.

“I’ve worked to elect women candidates from the Republican, Democrat, and Independent parties and I’m very well aware of what a ‘push poll’ is,” Tivey told The Bulletin. “I’ve never witnessed a push poll against a candidate that has contained this volume of questions, and so many that are patently false.

“At one point in the poll, I was asked if I’d changed my mind yet, and whether I’d be voting for the candidates running against Sen. Boucher,” Tivey said. “When I responded that I hadn’t changed my mind, I was read multiple negative questions painting Sen. Boucher in a very negative light and repeatedly lying about her record on issues from education funding, and tax reform, to health care, and LGBTQ rights.

“Each time I was asked whether these statements had made me more concerned about voting for Sen. Boucher. And each time I stated that since these statements were outright lies I was more concerned about whomever had written them than I was about voting to re-elect the senator.”

Haskell’s campaign issued a press release on Sept. 21 disavowing any knowledge of such a poll.

“Will Haskell for CT has not conducted, paid for, nor encouraged any type of poll. Additionally, all of Will Haskell for CT’s expenditures are publicly listed on the website of the State Election Enforcement Commission,” the release said

“I would urge Sen. Boucher to examine our expenditures online before making a misleading, public claim about how our campaign spends its resources,” Haskell said in the release. The public campaign filings for Will Haskell for CT, including all expenditures, can be found at https://seec.ct.gov/eCrisReporting/SearchingDoc.aspx

A search on the state website revealed no money spent by Haskell’s campaign for polling. The site shows his campaign spent $90 for email marketing, and no other types of advertising.

Thursday’s Facebook post was Sen. Boucher’s third incorrect claim about Haskell this month, his campaign alleged, citing a Sept. 15 Facebook post in which Boucher claimed “without evidence” that the Haskell campaign had removed several of her lawn signs from private property in Weston. Boucher’s Facebook post shows a woman taking two signs for probate judge candidate Larry Cafero from a roadside. She attributed it to “the opposition.”

A week prior, the press release said, Boucher told a group of Republicans at the opening of the Ridgefield Republican Town Committee that Haskell’s parents are major donors to Congressman Jim Himes and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, which the Haskell campaign said is not true.

“First, Sen. Boucher claimed that my parents were wealthy Democratic donors. When that was easily disproved, she accused my campaign of stealing her lawn signs. I called her up and let her know that if any of her signs are missing, I’ll drive over and replace them myself. Now, she’s attacking my campaign over a push poll that I’ve never heard of,” Haskell said.

“I’m going to spend the next 47 days like I spent the past 203; talking about issues, knocking on doors and listening to voters,” he said.

Boucher did not provide specific proof that Haskell was behind any polling but she told The Bulletin on Friday “I know exactly what everyone is doing for me” and believes Haskell does, too.

In response, he said operating a push poll did not make sense. “Negative attacks aren’t appealing to voters. … We have limited resources and spend all our money on trying to get out  the vote. We would never spend money on that. I would never support a push poll — that goes against our mission.”