In Florida, a Robocall from a Christian Right Organization

This email came in from reader Annie. I’m kind of curious about it myself, so I’m posting it in full:

While working from home this afternoon, I received a phone call from an “out of area” phone number that I didn’t recognize. I live in Florida, a battleground state, and often disregard such calls as it is usually a robocall from the Romney campaign. For some reason, I decided to answer it.

I waited a few seconds, a telltale sign that a recording will soon follow, and was asked by someone with a women’s voice if I would be willing to take a brief, three question survey for the American Family Association. Recognizing this organization’s name from past readings about religious hate groups, I decided to play along.

The first question asked (and I am paraphrasing here, as I did not record the call), “Do you agree with Billy Graham’s statement that it is important to vote for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles, who protect the sanctity of life, and who support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman? Press one if you agree with this statement. Press two if you disagree.”

This was a no-brainer for me and I quickly pressed two. The next thing I knew, the voice said, “Thank you for sharing your opinion,” and the call was terminated. What happened to the other two questions? Apparently, this wasn’t simply an opinion survey, but rather a “survey” where there were right and wrong answers.

I would be curious to know if other readers have received similar automated calls. I would also be curious, if anyone pressed one after the first question, in knowing what other questions followed.

Weird. What’s that all about?

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • ortcutt

    It’s push-polling.  It’s certainly nothing that I would put past an organization as loathsome as the AFA.

  • JohnnieCanuck

    That’s not what is normally meant by a push poll, is it? I’ve never had the pleasure.

  • Neil Rickert

    Apparently, this wasn’t simply an opinion survey, but rather a “survey” where there were right and wrong answers.

    This is an example of why I hang up on robocalls as soon as I recognize that’s what it is.

  • Liberated Liberal

    How long do you think we have to wait before a report is released saying that out of 3,000 people RANDOMLY polled, 2,999 agreed that candidates should be chosen based on their biblical principles?

  • Achron Timeless

    Well, the first question was to see if you were easily susceptible  I imagine the push came with the other 2 questions. If you don’t agree with their premise, that’s one more call the system could be making to someone they can dupe so you get hung up on.

  • Elerena

    Given that it disconnected, it’s possible that it’s not even traditional push-polling; the first question serves to make sure that everyone that answers the next two questions already agrees with them.  Then they can release news that “Nearly 100% said and on this survey!” when the only people that actually ANSWERED the questions about x and y were pre-screened.

  • JD929

    I’d suggest giving an answer they want to hear just to see what they’re really up to.

    Having a cell phone and not a land line, I’m still sheltered from this, though I don’t expect that protection to stick around for too long. It really annoys me that politicians shielded themselves against the robodialing laws.

  • Gregory Lynn

    It’s not necessarily something dishonest or disingenuous.

    Sometimes folks want to poll a certain subgroup so they ask a discriminating question right up front so as to not waste time and money.

    Or, you know, they could be lying liars who lie.

  • nccic

    I got the same phone call and I listened to the first question and then hung up.

  • nccinc

    by the way they called me on my cell phone as I don’t have a land line

  • Miss_Beara

    Billy Graham had a full page ad in the Chicago Tribune on Sunday about electing a candidate that is for the “biblical definition of marriage”, “sanctity of life”, and will follow “biblical principles”, whatever that means. It made me gag.

  • spellwight

    Maybe this is an underhanded way to define people for a target list?

    Not related really, but there was a story on the new tonight about some group sending mailers to people listing who and how each of their neighbors voted in previous elections. Another underhanded way to turn people against each other?

    I wouldn’t put anything past those hate-mongers.

  • JohnnieCanuck

    The link you provide contradicts you. Not who and how, obviously, as it is a secret ballot. Rather the mailer is reporting whether your neighbours bothered to vote or not. It is supposed to encourage voting, but whether it does or not, it is also annoying people.

  • newavocation

    They are mostly likely looking for donations! It’s always about dollars. Answer the questions correctly and they probably put a live person on line to request your support.

  • Ubi Dubium

    I found the full-page ad in the “Local” section of the Washington Post yesterday.  Ew.

  • PsiCop

    I got one of those. It listed people on my road who’d voted in presidential elections going back to 2000. It didn’t tell me who they voted for (there’s no way for them to know that), just if they had or not for each of the 3 elections. And it was correct, at least according to local voting records, since it listed me as not having voted in a year when I happened to be living in another part of the country (and I’d voted in that location).

    I found it very disturbing myself.

  • PsiCop

    I get polling calls all the time. In pretty much every case they identify the company or group they’re from, provide an amount of time they estimate the poll will take, then ask if I’d like to participate. Sometimes I participate and sometimes I don’t (lately I haven’t, because quite honestly this whole election annoys the crap out of me and there are no candidates on any ballot that have anything to say to me or for me).

    I’m not aware the AFA has been hiring any bona fide polling companies to do surveys for them. So I assume this call was placed by them, and therefore is part of their own campaign effort, not a true poll.

  • Lurker111

    On rare occasions a robocall type of poll can be fiddled by appropriately pressing buttons that don’t correspond to choices.  I tied up one of these for half an hour once, until I got tired of it.  Now, every time I get one of these, I try various tricks to try to hang the processing script.

  • ReadsInTrees

    That’s exactly what I was going to say. When they release the results of their “poll”, they’re really only going to talk about the last two questions, the first question having weeded out the devil spawn.

  • The Other Weirdo

     I make it simpler for everyone. I just never answer phone calls from numbers I don’t recognize or those that are blocked.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

     Thanks for closing your fake HTML tags! I was getting nervous!

  • ReadsInTrees

    I do a similar thing whenever I get a real person. I try to make up the weirdest answers, or take a long roundabout way to answer the question. Finally, I usually end the conversation but fake crying and making up a story about praying to God for a sign that Jesus Christ really is Lord, but then my little brother got ran over but a Baptist summer camp school bus, so now I don’t know what to think….

  • ReadsInTrees

    If it sounds like a legitimate poll, I usually participate because I want to make sure my views are represented.

  • Jeff Handy

    This kind of framed survey has become all too common. It’s been around for a long time, but Frank Luntz popularized it to the mainstream. Now I see it with nearly every survey I’ve taken in the last few years. Some framing is subtle, but it’s there. This is blatant, probably as a budget restriction for whoever hired the agency. What they don’t seem to get is that any statistical data they might garner is diluted to the point of being all but useless. They may as well do without the numbers. Heck, some politicians don’t even bother – they just feign numbers that “back up” whatever rhetoric they happen to be regurgitating for their constituents. It makes me feel physically sick to think about.

  • Aaronlane

    Its actually a Push Poll Plus. By making it interactive they did two things: One, they delivered the crux of the message in the opener. Two, they gathered information about that particular number. That information can now be used to either mark the number for similar calls in the future or (more likely) mark that number as a waste of time for this call sheet. (Possibly marking it for a different call sheet later.)

  • Annie

     I was thinking they will just disregard all of us who did not agree with their first question and come out with a poll “results” that say: out of 5,000 randomly chosen people, 98% will be voting for Romney.  So much of this is funny, but the sad truth is that there are plenty of people who will believe them.

  • Gunstargreen

    I’ve gotten calls similar to this one in Pennsylvania. I always disagree and never get asked the rest of the survey questions.

    This is why you shouldn’t trust any stupid poll you hear about.

  • Happycynic

    I worked with a phone-polling company for a while as a caller. A fairly common tactic when trying to get information on a certain segment of society, such as likely voters, republicans, democrats, or conservative fundamentalist billy-graham followers, is to ask a screening question (i.e. “Are you intending to vote this election?”) before the question they really want to know (“Who do you intend to vote for?). If the answer to the screening question shows they aren’t in the demographic you’re trying to learn about, then they say “thank you for your time” and move on.

  • No

    Never had a political call like that before, though I’ve ignored several unrecognizable phone numbers, so I may have been called by it before and just ignored it. All the ones I’ve answered are simple 1-way calls. The calls are somewhere in the area of an 8:1 ratio GOP to Democratic, for the calls I have had the displeasure of letting start. I do live in a red state, so perhaps that ratio is explainable.

  • Daniel Miles

    The strange, statistical truth of modern politics is that “undecideds” have less to do with elections than our intuition tells us they must. Elections are decided by how motivated each party’s base is, which side can get more of its members off the couch to vote.

    So, if you’re inclined towards bigotry in your political leanings, as you’d indicate by answering the first of three questions “correctly,” hearing two more similar questions will work on you like a traditional push-poll. If not, the American Family Association would do better not to give you any positive or negative encouragement at all.

    That’s my educated guess.

  • Suze in Palm Bay, FL

    I live in Florida and I also got this exact same phone call. I pressed two and was thanked and disconnected.  I feel sure that questions two and three were to be answered only by those who had agreed (pressed one) for the first questions. Grrrrrrr.. Thanks for giving me the exact name of the bozos who called me.  Love your blog.

  • Tim Rohal II

    I’m going to guess that anyone who answered “no” would not be willing to donate to the organization, while those who answered “yes” to the end would be more willing to listen to the pitch at the end. 

  • Elerena

    I didn’t.  It autocloses any tag. XD

  • PsiCop

    I used to think that way, but not any more. I’m no longer naive enough to think politicians or groups conduct polls in order to find out what people think and how they should formulate policy around that. It’s clear they have zero interest in what I have to say, and the feeling is mutual.

  • pagansister

    I live in Florida also, but fortunately no one has found my cell phone number and I’ve received NO political calls.   Obviously they knew that you weren’t the type of person they could use to bolster their “for Mitt” poll. :o) 

  • pagansister

     Have wondered if that ad was placed by Billy’s wonderful son, Franklin using his father’s name?  Personally I’m not sure Rev. Graham is in any physical condition to approve or disapprove anything anymore. 

  • notveryhow

     Just got this in Pa.

    Absolutely a push poll. They don’t want to know what anyone thinks, they just want to remind people that Billy Graham said gawd is watching, hellfire apparently being an important part of GOTV efforts for a certain political party.

    I wish I hadn’t pressed 2, I wonder what the other 2 statements…er…excuse me, questions were.

  • Emma

    I just got the same robocall, and I live in Georgia (which is definitely not a battleground state). The calls started at 4 PM, all from spoofed (fake) phone numbers in different area. Finally I answered and got exactly the same question and the Thank You after answering No. Spoofed phone numbers are used by thieves and scammers. What does that say about the Billy Graham organization? And, while typing this, I got the same call again! And just now, again! 

  • PoodleSheep

    I wonder what would happen if you pressed 0 on those things…

  • Emma

    OK, after 5 more calls, I called the Billy Graham Ministries. The woman there said they have nothing to do with the calls and they have been getting complaints from all over the country.   She knew that the phone numbers were spoofed and said they’re trying to find out who is doing it. I told her that the calls were making her organization look bad (not that it needs any help, but I didn’t say that to her as she was a perfectly pleasant woman). She agreed. 

  • Swanky

    I live in New York and have gotten somewhat similar calls. The robo voice asks if I’m a Republican. If I answer No it thanks me for my time and hangs up. If I answer Yes it gives a short sermon on the evils of gay marriage and urges me to vote for Republican state senators and assembly persons who will work to overturn the state’s gay marriage law.

  • Ixoreus

    I live  in Nevada. Friday evening,  I received the same call.  I didn’t answer the 1st question, so I do not know what the other questions might be.   When they didn’t receive an answer, the message repeated.   It repeated about 4 times before hanging up.    I think calls like this one are sorting calls.  If you agree, then the organization knows where to find supporters.  I always answer undecided – this way they have to waste time and money on return calls.

  • Jeff P

    I got the exact same call yesterday and I live in Virginia.  I couldn’t bring myself to answer Yes to hear the other questions.  I answered No, was thanked and then disconnected.

  • NlBrunette

    Crazy thing I just received the same call less than 1/2 hr ago. I pressed 2 for the 1st Question. It would not accept that answer and kept saying they didn’t get a response. I kept pushing #2 then I was hanged up on

  • Mommiest

     There was some research that was done a few years ago to see whether or not it is possible to increase voter turnout this way. The idea was to use this as a subtle form of social pressure, suggesting that your neighbors will find out later if you didn’t vote. It does have a measurable positive effect on turnout, but got people very upset.

  • Mommiest

     If you never answer the phone, your number will simply be rolled over in the database to be called again. You are usually better  off answering, and either hanging up on a robocall or letting the caller know that you want to be taken off their list. Be polite to those people, by the way; you wouldn’t want them to miscateg0rize you out of spite. If you live in an area with early voting, telling them you have already voted is another way to reduce calls.

  • Listen2Others

    I got the same call today, but when I pressed “2″ to “disagree” with the Graham statement, the recording kept saying that they didn’t get my entry. I tried twice at their prompts and the line was disconnected. So, I tried to return the call, and it appears my number has been blocked.

    So, yes, they can skew their results any way they like when the “disagree” button is disabled.

  • Anonymous

    I got this call as well with the same result, I’m in Michigan. 

  • Reilly1102

    I received the same call yesterday here in NC. I answered “agree” for the first question so that I could hear the other two questions.  The second question was “agree” or “disagree” to a quote attributed to George Washington regarding a link between morality and religion. I “agreed” again and the third question was “Do you want us to send you a voter guide and/or a link to a downloadable album by xxxxxx ?” I don’t recall the name of the band. I had never heard of them before this phone call. I opted out of both.