Type in ‘independent voter’ in Google and among the most popular hits are ‘Independent Voter Network’ and ‘Independent Voter Research.’ But neither the Independent Voter Network (IVN.us) nor its partners are responsible for these calls and ‘Independent Voter Research’ is nowhere to be found.
[Update: Further investigation suggests ties to Republican polling group.]
Various online internet forums are flooded with complaints about mysterious robo-calls from unidentified numbers conducting a survey on the current presidential election. The reports are consistent and describe an automated voice that asks basic demographic questions such as age, sex, ethnicity, party affiliation, and if the survey taker will likely vote. The automated voice then proceeds with questions on which candidate the person is leaning towards.
In many of the complaints, it is reported that a number is given to contact a political polling agency called Independent Voter Research. However, when someone tries to dial the number 866-540-3140 no one answers. Instead, callers only get an automated message:
“Thank you for contacting Independent Voter Research. We’re sorry to have missed you. We were trying to reach you to get your opinion. Have a nice day.”
The calls vary in origin, usually coming from a 866 or 202 phone number. The contact number provided is unlisted and there is no website or online record of the firm.
In February, Rolling Stone published an article online about a polling effort conducted in Michigan during the Republican race for the presidential nomination. In these calls, the pollster was never identified, but it did end by informing the survey taker that they could contact the group at 866-540-3140. Just as it was with the most recent cases, the automated message identified the organization as Independent Voter Research.
While the mystery of Independent Voter Research confounded voters, it was uncovered then that the research was not independent at all. It is alleged that the survey was being conducted by Mitt Romney’s campaign.
The people at Rolling Stone figured out the deceptive polling technique when they tested the functionality of the Romney campaign’s social networking feature, “MyMitt.” Volunteers that sign up at MyMitt are encouraged to use the “Call From Home” tool. It was discovered that the script provided to volunteers was the same script used by mysterious pollsters calling likely GOP voters.
Volunteers were connected to Michigan voters by a central system that first called the volunteer and then auto-dialed numbers for them. The process is supposed to be faster, but it also prevents the pollster’s information from showing up on caller ID and the script doesn’t instruct volunteers to identify themselves or that they are calling on behalf of the Romney campaign.
No matter how many times a person calls the number for Independent Voter Research, no one answers. The only difference between the Michigan calls in February and the more recent reports seems to be that the calls are completely automated now. We are continuing our investigation…