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RJC defends poll, Dems cry foul

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The leader of the Republican Jewish Coalition says he did nothing wrong by sponsoring a poll that tested negative messages about Barack Obama, but said he won’t provide his poll questions to the media unless Democrats do the same.

“I’ll be happy to release the questions when the Obama people release their polls,” said Brooks. “I don’t want a double standard.” The RJC leader said that his organization had “nothing to apologize for” and was simply testing messages like “every single campaign” does. Many of the messages that Brooks confirmed were tested in the poll are statements that have been appearing in RJC advertisements and other literature for months.

He added that characterizations of the survey as a “negative Obama poll” were unfair. There were 82 questions asked, and “less than 10 percent” tested “messages” dealing with Obama. There were other questions, he said, dealing with the economy, energy independence and a “wide range of issues.” The poll queried 750 voters in Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Democrats concede that Brooks was not conducting a “push poll” but say that the messages he was testing were filled with distortions and untruths.

Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, who was John Kerry’s pollster during the 2004 presidential campaign, said the lengthy list of questions appears to indicate that the survey was designed to test messages and “did not meet the definition of a push poll” – which is usually a much briefer call that isn’t a poll at all but a call made with the sole purpose of spreading negative information about a candidate.

But Mellman said he felt the RJC was testing messages that wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny and that he wouldn’t test as a pollster. “There’s a line between basically accurate and basically deceptive and they crossed that line,” Mellman said.

“I test messages, he’s testing lies,” said National Jewish Democratic Council executive director Ira Forman, who said that many of the reported questions start with a “grain of truth” but leave out important context or twist the meaning of certain facts. Forman said he would not detail the types of messages he tests.

Mik Moore, who as founder of the pro-Obama organization Jewsvote.org first publicized reports of the RJC poll, said that by the definition of experts the RJC survey was probably not a “push poll.” But he said the “effect of it was a push poll” because it ended up upsetting people and spreading negative information about Obama within the community.

But Republican pollster Neil Newhouse said he found the RJC questions “pretty standard in message testing surveys” because pollsters “tend not to give both sides of the story” in such cases. He said both parties do similar types of polls, and that as long as a statement can be defended as true if it shows up on the front page of the newspaper, it will be tested.

He added that the size of the RJC’s poll – 750 Jewish voters in Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Jersey – was clear evidence that the RJC was not conducting a “push poll,” which usually goes to tens of thousands of voters.

Brooks denied “absolutely” and “categorically” that the poll asked any questions that accused Obama of being a Muslim or brought up the Islamic background of his family, or that there were any questions claiming that Obama was endorsed by the president of Iran or donated to the PLO, as some who were polled have claimed in media reports.

He also said that, contrary to reports of some of those surveyed, respondents were not told that Obama supported a “divided Jerusalem.” He said the actual question was: “Barack Obama once supported a united, undivided Jerusalem, but now says it’s ‘up to the parties’ which could mean a divided Jerusalem.”

Brooks confirmed that the survey included questions about Hamas leader Ahmed Yousef’s stated support of Obama, that “Jimmy Carter’s anti-Israel national security adviser” is a foreign policy adviser to Obama, and that the Democratic candidate was the member of the board of an organization which donated to a pro-Palestinian organization. He defended all those statements as accurate.

“The questions were designed to understand why the Jewish community continues to have a problem” with Barack Obama,” Brooks said.

Forman noted that the questions leave out important information, such as Hamas’ renouncement of the endorsement after Obama’s speech at the AIPAC policy conference, and that the “pro-Palestinian organization” is primarily devoted to social service work in Chicago. Forman also said he didn’t believe Brooks’ denials about the content of the questions after speaking to people who were surveyed and claimed they heard such statements.

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