DENVER — A serene-looking green space at East 35th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard in Denver makes up the 200-acre Park Hill Golf Course. The open space is sparking intense debate in Denver.
A developer snatched up Park Hill Golf Course in 2019.
Under current rules, it is limited to operating as an 18-hole golf course. But now, the city is asking neighbors if they want to keep it as a golf course or change things up. The City of Denver worked with a market research firm to survey neighbors.
On Tuesday, they released the results of that survey. Four out of five respondents said they want mixed use, including 85% who were in favor of a grocery store, 73% for a park and 67% for affordable housing.
Neighbors shared their thoughts, but some argue their thoughts were influenced by the survey.
“There are obviously many, many legitimate polls and surveys out there and for those, usually, you don’t see loaded questions,” said Ali Besharat, a University of Denver marketing and consumer insight expert.
But Besharat says there are also marketing polls masquerading as political polls and surveys.
“The way I describe them is they are sleazy, sneaky political activities,” Besharat said. “Usually, they present an incorrect fact about the topic or candidate. It is deceptive, indeed.”
What Besharat is talking about are what are commonly referred to as "push polls."
“If you’re mounting a push poll, it’s because you’re trying to get people to believe a certain thing,” said Daniel Cole, a Republican political consultant. “You’re pretending like you’re approaching it neutrally when, in fact, you have an ulterior motive and a hidden agenda.”
Cole says push polls cleverly pretend to want to learn about what people think, when they’re trying to shape how you think.
“A push poll says things like, ‘If you knew Drew robbed banks at night, would you still think he’s a great guy?’” Cole said. “That’s a little disingenuous, and I think there’s fair criticism to be made of that.”
That Park Hill Golf Course survey is being called out by some community members as nothing more than a push poll with no interest in gauging public opinion, but instead shaping public thought.
“This is the last, largest piece of land in the City of Denver,” said Lisa Calderon, chief of staff for Denver Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca. “That’s why people are fighting so hard to preserve it.”
CdeBaca recently blasted the City of Denver for the Park Hill survey saying, “Let's talk about push polls: A push poll is a marketing technique disguised as a survey in which the true objective is to sway voters using loaded or manipulative questions. The Park Hill Golf Course survey is stacked with pro-development questions as a pretext for extinguishing the conservation easement.”
That conservation easement was voted on by Denver residents decades ago when Wellington Webb was mayor.
“It has a protection on it so that it’s not supposed to have development,” Calderon said. “But because a developer bought this land, he is trying to develop it. The push poll is set up to agree with development, and so in the first two questions you’re asked really, ‘Are you for development,' more or less, or, 'Are you for a golf course?’ Well, if you’re someone who supports open space, you didn’t have an option. The current administration has an agenda to develop this property.”
We contacted the City of Denver who put us in touch with the company that developed the survey, RRC Associates out of Boulder.
“We don’t have a dog in this hunt,” said Sean Maher with RRC.
Maher says they’ve been doing market research like this since 1983, and he defended the survey as completely legitimate.
“If a piece of information doesn’t reinforce your agenda, you have to label it fake news or somehow discredit it, but we will defend this survey," Maher said. "It is not a push poll.”
It has clearly struck a nerve with Republicans and Democrats alike as potentially agenda-driven.
“It was a deceptive poll,” Calderon said.
“To me, that’s very valid criticism,” Cole said.
Experts have some advice on how to distinguish between a truly unbiased poll and a push poll.
“If you get a call, just simply ask: Who is the sponsor in this research? What is the purpose of this research?” Besharat said.
Besharat said most true polls are lengthy and ask about demographics like your race, gender and income, while push polls tend to be shorter and more negative — selling an opinion rather than learning yours.
“It’s deceptive,” Besharat said. “It’s incorrect information.”