By Alissa Smith Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — It’s not unusual for political pollsters to try to determine which candidate voters prefer in a particular race.
But when labor giant AFL-CIO started calling voters in state Senate District 22 recently, things got a little curious.
“When the survey asked, ‘Who would you support in the Aug. 16 election?’ it said, ‘Press 1 for Sen. Robert Wirch, press 2 for Fred Ekornaas, and press 3 for undecided,’” Kenosha resident, Nate Hunter, told MediaTrackers.com, a nonprofit conservative research and news website.
But here’s the catch — there’s no mention of Ekornaas’ opponent in the July 19 primary, Kenosha attorney Jonathan Steitz. Ekornaas is the Republican vice chairman of the Kenosha County Board. The winner of the July 19 primary will face incumbent Wirch, a Pleasant Prairie Democrat, on Aug. 16.
Hunter said he supports Steitz in the primary race.
Even curiouser, though, is the telephone number that displayed when the call was received — 202-974-8147. It’s a Washington, D.C., number and when called, a message simply says the caller has reached the AFL-CIO. Media Trackers captured the audio of the voice mail, though the message Thursday said the mailbox was full.
The AFL-CIO did not return calls seeking comment on the survey.
Also tied to the Washington, D.C., telephone number is Working America, an AFL-CIO community affiliate for employees in jobs that are not represented by a union.
When asked about the number and the survey questions, Aruna Jain, media relations specialist for Working America, said she wasn’t aware the polling questions focused on two of the three candidates.
Ashley Schultz, campaign manager for Steitz, said she believes Steitz intentionally was left out of the telephone survey, because he is the stronger candidate.
“We probably appear to them as the more threatening candidate,” Schultz said. “We’ve out-raised our primary opponent, and we’ve got the momentum behind us, and it threatens them.”
Calls to Ekornaas were not returned.
The strategy behind the survey question — and intentionally leaving out one of the candidates — could affect the way voters approach the contest, said Kathy Cramer Walsh, an associate professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“It’s more like a salience effect. It’s more prominent in our minds; there is so much going on in our head,” she said. “It’s sort of like when someone says, ‘Don’t think about an elephant,’ you can’t help but think about an elephant.”
Walsh said it’s difficult to say if one polling call will make a difference on the ballots, but voters “will prefer a name they’re familiar with.”
Katie McCallum, director of communications for the Republican Party of Wisconsin, said the phone calls show the labor union is concerned about the incumbent Democrat’s chance in the recall race.
“While they’ve already spent millions of dollars attempting to turn Wisconsin back to the failed policies of the past, they’ll soon learn yet again that voters trust Republicans to continue to stand up for the middle-class, and not big labor,” McCallum said in a statement.