On those informative and objective congressional constituent surveys

On the eve of election season, constituent surveys from incumbent congressmen are starting to fill mailboxes across Tennessee, observes the Chattanooga TFP. And they may not always be objective.

(A)bout 45,000 residents in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District were sent an “end of year report and survey” by U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., this month.

The survey and report give residents a rundown of what the Chattanooga Republican says he’s been focusing on and says it seeks to gauge what constituents want him to do. Fleischmann is seeking renomination for his 3rd District seat. He is being challenged in the GOP primary by Weston Wamp. Whoever wins the primary in August could face Angelia Stinnett, the only Democrat in the race to date.

…”It’s not the most egregious I’ve seen. But is it truly supposed to be a scientific measure of what his constituency thinks? … I’m not sure this will give [Fleischmann] that,” said Michelle Deardorff, head of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s political science department.
Simplicity of language can be a red flag for political polls, Deardorff said.

“Oftentimes, these polls are used to move public opinion,” she said. “We do know that the way questions are framed help to produce certain answers.”
That means the results might not actually represent the true sentiments of most Tennesseans in the 3rd District.

Such mailers and surveys have to clear the Franking Commission, a federal bipartisan committee that approves or vetoes political speech paid for by tax money. The group’s aim is to ensure politicians don’t use tax dollars to campaign.

But despite the clearance, Deardorff said charged language can sometimes sneak through. It did in Fleischmann’s survey, she said: The survey refers to abortion as “the right to life” and refers to the Affordable Care Act as “Obamacare.” Deardorff says that language is loaded — but she’s seen much worse.