Tag Archives: Polls

The State of Market Research

In the late 1930s, curiosity struck John Gallup and he became interested in collecting public opinion. That was the beginning of the American Institute of Public Opinion, later known as the Gallup poll. This research institution conducts polls on a variety of topics but is well known for their political polling. The Gallup institution is centripetal in propelling the ongoing relationship between market research and the political sphere, due to their legacy of reliability in election polls and presidential approval ratings. In fact, the Gallup presidential approval poll was introduced shortly after the American Institute of Public Opinion was created. Although, Gallup was later acquired by SRI Research, their tradition of political and socioeconomic polls remains a longstanding tradition.

Gallup initiated the relationship between market research and politics, but many other market researchers have begun gauging public opinion through a variety of methods. Politicians, media officials, businesses, and several other parties are highly dependent on this data collection. This can be illustrated in the ongoing dispute regarding the election prediction polls during the 2016 Presidential Election. Public opinion allows political parties to orchestrate their marketing plans and show them what audiences to focus their attention. It can also provide a sense of assurance or urgency among the voters depending on their candidate’s status among the public. During the 2016 Election, the majority of the polls did not render the correct outcome. The 2016 Election served as a pivotal moment for market research. Conversations regarding data accuracy and survey methodology are still circulating although President Trump has already taken office.

Despite these challenges, market research is still prospering in the political sphere. President Trump and his administration are proceeding through the first 100 days and implementing their plans announced on the campaign trail. Simultaneously, market researchers are gauging the public’s response to the new implementations and measuring the public approval rating of the president. Media outlets are utilizing this data in the reporting which creates conversations between the presidential administration, the media, and the public about “the facts.” These ongoing conversations encourage more market research to be conducted in order to increase reach to specific audiences and improve data quality. As a result, the Trump presidency will substantially impact the growth of the research industry.

Although market research has always had an important role in politics, the importance of public opinion only seems to be growing. The market research industry became the center of conversation during the election. Data quality and accuracy are now being heavily considered by politicians and media outlets. Market research and public opinion data will be the tools used by political parties to validate their efforts. While media outlets are dependent on data for reporting. It is reasonable to expect that market research is an industry that will surely thrive over the next four years.

Whose Poll is Right?

 

As the presidential race draws to a close, there are numerous polls from diverse sources available to the public.  However, there is a lack of consistency between many of the polls. Is Hillary up by 3 points in Florida or is Trump up by 2 points?  Whose poll is right and whose is wrong?  Like many questions in politics, it depends.

All political polls are based upon some assumptions about who is actually going to vote.  This is called a model of the electorate. Having a correct or incorrect model will determine how accurately a poll will predict the outcome.  Social scientists who argue for a pure random sample can really mispredict an election if they do not take into consideration data collection methodologies. One example is the recent U.S.C. Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Daybreak poll, which has been getting a lot of slack by pollsters, due to its outlying poll results. Some make the argument on how the data was weighted; others blame a 19 year-old Trump supporter for skewing the poll results. While those are both legitimate points and probably contributed to the skewed poll result, sample and data collection probably played an even more significant role in this issue.

Dr. Jim Kitchens, a research practitioner with over 30 years experience in political polling suggests that “ Weighting works as well as setting quotas, within a reasonable limit. If the sampling source (list, panel, etc.) is good, you should be close to your quotas and it may require some weighting.” In other words, weighting alone is not the issue nor is that 19 year-old Trump supporter. By applying quotas in the sample, this would ensure that enough Republicans and Democrats were represented. Thus, minimizing the risk of working with a toxic sample.

The Romney campaign failed to call Ohio (the entire 2012 election for that matter) correctly because they were dependent upon telephone-based data collection.  Even merging in cell phones, this methodology will skew a sample toward older voters, white voters, and Republicans. They assumed many of the younger voters and minority voters who supported President Obama in 2008 were not going to vote because they did not find them on the telephone. This was a mistaken assumption. However, if a pure random sample is taken from an internet panel, it may skew the sample toward younger people. This, again, boils down to data collection and sample.

The key is to set quotas from two or three critical groups based upon past elections of a similar nature. The most critical factors for politics are party affiliation, race, age, and gender.  According to Dr. Kitchens, “there are two ways to construct a model: (1) quotas during the data collection or (2) mathematical weighting based upon the assumed turnout.  Either method is methodologically sound and will work.”

The problem for political polls is that no one knows whose model is right until the election is over.  Even Nate Silver, who is regarded as a god among pollsters now because he accurately predicted the winner in the 2012 Presidential election for every 50 states, including the District of Columbia, has had his critics.

This year, several assumption pollsters have to consider include:

Will the minority voters turn out for Hillary Clinton at the sample level they turned out for Barack Obama?

Will Donald Trump be perceived in such a negative way by Republican women that they will either vote for Hillary Clinton or stay home?

With both candidates having a majority of voters view them unfavorably, will turnout among all voters decline?  Low turnout usually means an older, more conservative electorate.

Will the outrage from Hispanic leaders toward Donald Trump actually drive a significant percentage of new Hispanic voters into the electorate?

Every poll has to be built upon the assumed correct answer to these questions.  So, it will be election day before the argument about whose polls are correct can be answered.

While we may not know whose poll is right or wrong until after the 2016 Presidential Election, I’m sure Mitt Romney would agree with the following statement: Get your sample and data collection methodology right!

Online Political Polls Catching On?

As Americans’ modes of communication are continually changing, the techniques/methods that produce the most accurate polls are changing as well. At qSample, we have to stay on top of the latest political polling techniques in order to get the most accurate results when election season comes around, which is just around the corner

 

In 2012’s presidential election, a number of polling firms that conduct their surveys online had solid results. But others, especially those that relied exclusively on calling land lines, performed very poorly, showing a more Republican-leaning electorate than actually turned out.

 

Up until the 2012 election, the most renowned political polling companies had not adopted online polling. Notably Gallup, which had been known as the gold standard of the industry for the past three decades. According to the New York Times, some of the most accurate firms were those that conducted their polls online, citing internet polling companies like Google Consumer Surveys, Ipsos, Angus Reid Public Opinion and YouGov for producing surveys whose results held up after the election.

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Despite stellar results, polling standards, adopted by most all notable media outlets, still do not permit reporting of online polls because it is still estimated that one in five people in America still do not have access to the internet. New York Times policy states, “In order to be worthy of publication in The Times, a survey must be representative, that is, based on a random sample of respondents. Any survey that relies on the ability and/or availability of respondents to access the internet and choose whether to participate is not representative and therefore not reliable.”

 

Online polls differ from telephone surveys in some fundamental ways. Respondents to Internet polls complete the surveys using their computer, mobile device or smartphone.

Within the field of online polling, there are important differences in the way respondents are selected. This is known as sampling.

 

Phone polling holds as one of its founding principles the idea of probability sampling; for the universe that is being surveyed, each member has a defined and equal likelihood of being selected to participate in the survey.

 

When almost every American lived in a household with a landline phone, it was easy to design a representative sampling frame for a basic political survey. Presently, a dual-frame sample, combining landline and cell phones, is considered by phone pollsters to be closest to a true probability sample.

Internet polls, in most cases, use nonprobability sampling. They exclude households without Internet access; these demographics tend to be older and lower-income Americans. Most online polls are also completed by people who choose to participate. Some participants sign up to complete online polls on websites that offer prizes such as gift cards to chain restaurants and movie theaters, giveaways, etc. Others are responding to ads placed on other websites that may or may not be related to the poll’s subject, a technique known as river sampling.

A few news organizations did begin to experiment with Internet polling during the 2012 cycle. CBS News used online methods, partnering with YouGov. But CBS also conducted national live-caller telephone polls, and they partnered with Quinnipiac University for the battleground-state polls. It will be interesting to see if pollsters will begin using more online samples with the results the 2012 election had.

 

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