Is Comcast “Push Polling” Philadelphians?

Witnesses say company is trying to shape opinion with leading questions.

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

A new report from Consumerist suggests that Comcast is running a “push poll” in Philadelphia while City Hall considers the details of a franchise agreement that will govern the company’s responsibilities to the city’s consumers for the next 15 years.

A push poll, Consumerist explains, is designed not so much to measure public opinion but to shape it — “a manipulative surveying practice where the questions are designed in such a way as to nudge respondents to give a desired response, and/or to put a desired message in the survey respondent’s mind.” And the site has two witnesses — both experts and activists in this sort of stuff — who say they were the object of push polling by the cable giant.

One of those stories:

Chris Rabb, author of Invisible Capital: How Unseen Forces Shape Entrepreneurial Opportunity and a professor at Temple University’s Fox School of Business, also took part in the phone survey. He tells Consumerist it was one of the most egregious examples of non-electoral push polling he’s seen in decades.

This was particularly true, says Rabb, when the survey transitioned to questions about demands Philadelphia could make of Comcast in the company’s renewed franchise agreement, and how these could increase costs for the company.

“All of the questions related to the franchise agreement were geared around the idea of ‘Do you believe you should have to pay for new expenses that we would tack on to your bill? Do you believe that you should pay for this?’” recalls Rabb. “They tried to make it seem like their profit margin is so thin that they can’t absorb any of the additional cost.”

The apparent goal of these questions, say both Rosso and Rabb, is to paint Comcast’s corporate citizenship in the best possible light while also stirring up discontent among those who would object to their already-high cable bills increasing further.

A Comcast rep told Consumerist that survey work is ““a reputable third party, independent company is fielding a survey for us in Philadelphia,” but declined to provide the survey’s details. “Our commitment to Philadelphia is important to us, as are our customers here, and this survey gives us an opportunity to find out more about what’s important to them.”