5 Things Winning Political Candidates Learn from a Poll

A lot of candidates think they are going to win, but when the ballots are counted on Election Night they go down in flames. This usually happens because they never knew where they stood with the voters, what issues mattered most to the voters, and who the voters trusted. There’s an easy way to prevent this from happening to you. It’s by doing a poll.

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Whenever I can afford to do a poll on a campaign I am working on, I do it. As my go-to pollster Matt Jason said in this interview, “The local candidate which makes polling a priority has a huge advantage over his or her opponents because their campaign has hard facts to work from and to use in voter targeting efforts.”

I want to know what the voters are thinking, where my candidate stands with them, and what we can do to get across the finish line in first place. That’s the only goal of a campaign and you should use every tool that can help you accomplish it, including conducting a poll.

There are five things that you can learn from a good poll that can help you win your election.

1. A poll tells you where you stand with the voters.

In a poll, you want to test a head-to-head match up between you and the other candidates in the race.

This will reveal what percentage of the vote you have as compared to your opponents.

Additionally, a good poll will also show you how strong such support is. Are the voters definitely with you an opponent, or just probably in voting for their candidate of choice?

Voters who say they are only probably voting for a candidate are up for grabs. They could be persuaded to vote for you or for an opponent. 

If you want to win your election, then you should make it a priority to sway these voters more firmly your way.

You can then target your communications at the demographics of the voters who said probably for you or another candidate and all of the undecided voters to build your winning coalition.

You’ve probably seen plenty of national polls that show a certain candidate polls in national elections, especially the 2016 contest, where the election results didn’t match the polling data. In many cases that happened because the polls the news released emphasized total support, rather than strong support.

Soft supporters or “probably” voters should not have been considered as absolute supporters as they were still a bit undecided. Between the time of talking to the pollster and casting their ballots, these voters changed their minds and made the polls look bogus.

If you remember this, you’ll have a much more realistic picture of where you’re at in your race.  You’ll also know which demographic groups you need to engage more with to turn them from “probably” voting for you into definite supporters.

2. A poll tells you what the voters are thinking about.

As an active member of your community, you likely have a good grasp of what the big issues are in the area. However, a poll can reveal a lot more information to you in this regard.

You can see which voter demographics are most concerned with the issue, but more importantly, you can identify what other issues are on the minds of the voters.

The best way to accomplish this is by having a poll with an open-ended question asking the polled voter what they consider to be the two or three biggest issues facing the city/county/school district/etc. currently.

The answers that come right out of the voters’ heads without any direction from the pollster are important.  It shows what’s really bothering them and is an excellent indicator that it’s something your campaign should focus on.

Often in the polls my candidates have conducted, an issue arises that wasn’t on anyone’s radar. This is important as it could reveal an issue that’s ready to bubble up into the public discourse.

If you’re the candidate who first starts talking about the issue and presents a plan to deal with it, the voters will view you as someone who has your finger on the pulse of the community. This will raise you in their esteem and help you become the person they trust to address the matter once in office.

3. A poll tells you if what you’re saying works.

In addition to the open-ended question, you should also test specific parts of your messaging in a poll. It may seem redundant, but as someone who doesn’t believe in wasting campaign cash, believe me when I say this is helpful.

After the open-ended issue question, the pollster then states your campaign positions one by one, each time asking the voters how important the issue is to them.

If 40% or more of the responding voters say the issue is strongly important to them, then you have a winning issue.  If it’s below 40%, then it’s not an issue you should be campaigning on.

The best result is when more than 40% of the voters view your position as extremely important and a significant percentage listed the issue you’re addressing as a top concern in the open-ended question. When that happens you’ve struck gold.

Sometimes an issue doesn’t show up as a major concern in the open ended question but it scores high when it’s tested as one of your positions. If that’s the case, use the issue. It’s a winner, but you will also need to address the issues the voters raised previously without any prompting.

I’ve also seen when a position of a candidate seems to match a concern of the voter, but less than 40% of the polled voters consider the position to be very important. If that happens to you, you just be careful.

The voters are not saying the issue isn’t important to them. What they are saying is that your position doesn’t address or fix the problem from their perspectives. If that’s the case, you need to massage your message to make it a winner.

Get out there and knock on some doors or do a telephone town hall. Talk to a ton of voters about the overall issue they identified in the open-ended question.  You’ll gain a better idea of what specifically is troubling them and be able to craft a position to deals with the issue that’s on their minds.

4. A poll tells you if specific attacks work.

I know, you don’t want to go negative. That’s okay. You may not have to. But it doesn’t mean an opponent won’t attempt to do the political body slam on you in the heat of the campaign.

If you know you have any potential vulnerabilities, you should test them in a poll. It will tell you if that information will make the voters more likely or less likely to vote for you.

You want to pay attention to the voters who say this makes them much mess likely to vote for you. However, it’s the inverse of when you tested your position statements.

If 40% or more of the voters say that negative information about you will make them much less likely to vote for you, you will be in trouble if attacked.

Should you find yourself in such a position you will have three possible courses of action to take.

1) You can inoculate yourself from the hit. 2) You can prepare a response to launch once it lands.  3) You can make your attacker look not so pristine by hitting them with their negatives.

But just like your negatives, you should only be attacking an opponent if their negatives move 40% or more of the voters in a poll to be much less likely to vote against that candidate.

If the negative doesn’t resonate with a negative intensity of over 40% in your poll, it’s not going to land with a thud with the voters. Don’t use it. And at the same time, don’t feel the need to respond to an attack if it also doesn’t move the voters.

That said, your opponent may have a negative that turns off 40% of the voters of a certain demographic like women, seniors, Independent or Latino voters for instance.

If that case, you can target your attacks using that negative specifically to that demographic. It could make a major difference in a close race.

5. A poll tells you how trusted the messengers are.

This may come as a shock, but no one wants to listen to a candidate blowing their own horn and touting their own resume.

That’s where messengers come in. You need third parties to tell the voters that you are a bottle of awesome sauce and how totally you rock the Casbah.

But not any third party messenger will do.  Nope. It needs to be someone the voters trust. That’s why we political pros call this “third party credibility.”

If the third party isn’t trusted by your voters, then they have zero credibility.  Such messengers are useless to your campaign. Using them might even harm your campaign if they are extremely distrusted.

Typical third party messengers I test are other elected officials, organizations (police/fire/teachers/nurses associations, chambers of commerce, political parties), and news outlets.

You aren’t testing if people approve or disapprove of these messengers, you want to know if they trust them when it comes to making recommendations in elections.

If a tested messenger is strongly trusted by 40% or more of the voters in the poll, then use that messenger in your campaign. If they don’t meet that threshold, you don’t have a credible messenger.

I’ve used popular messengers to introduce first-time candidates and it’s work marvelously.

Likewise, I’ve seen candidates I’ve worked against tout their support of a local newspaper only to lose the election. They had no idea how much the voters distrusted the local newspaper.  But I did and my candidate didn’t seek their endorsement.

Three Ways to Do a Poll for Your Campaign

Now that you know what information you want from a poll, you’re probably asking, “Well how do I do a poll then?”

Depending on your campaign budget and your cash on hand, there are three ways to conduct a poll.

Here’s an Winning Campaign Insider guide we’ve put together for you titled 3 Ways to Conduct a Poll.

To claim your free copy of 3 Ways to Conduct a Poll click this link.

And if you have any questions about polls that I didn’t answer here, feel free to hit me up in the comments or in an email and I’ll be sure to get back to you.