How a Good Poll Helps Political Candidates Win Elections

CASE STUDY: The role polling played in beating a city council incumbent

As a political consultant I always try to conduct a poll as I begin a campaign. A good poll can tell you which issues matter the most to the voters, which ones they don’t care about, and what subsets of voters are most convinced by specific messaging. A poll can make the difference between winning an election and losing it.

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This was recently the case in Riverside, California. As I previously wrote, my company had been hired by Chuck Conder to run his campaign for City Council against two-term incumbent Paul Davis.

I’ve known Chuck for several years and had told him that if he ever ran I’d definitely work for him. The time finally came and Chuck retained my services for his campaign.

While I knew Chuck to be politically seasoned and extremely hard working, I didn’t know if that was going to be enough to defeat the incumbent. I told him he needed to do a poll so we could find out what the voters were thinking and if Davis was vulnerable.

Chuck agreed and 10 weeks before Election Day his campaign commissioned my go-to pollster Matt Jason and his company Candid Research Solutions to conduct a poll in Riverside’s 4th City Council Ward.

The results we got back were on the surface not all that encouraging.

First off the voters were overwhelmingly content in the 4th Ward. This wasn’t the optimal environment to toss out an incumbent. In fact, the data told the opposite story.

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On top of that, in a head-to-head hypothetical match up, Davis was walloping Chuck 10 weeks out.

As Bart Simpson would say, “Hay Caramba!”

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There was no denying that this was Paul Davis’s race to win or lose. And it was my job to develop the winning story and the strategy that helped Davis lose it.

That’s exactly why I’d advised Chuck to conduct a poll.

While it may have appeared to tell us that Davis was a shoe-in for a third term, Matt and I saw something else.

Yes Paul Davis had 38% to Chuck Conder’s 19%, but only 13% of likely voters said they were definitely voting for Davis. That wasn’t good news for the incumbent.

The 26% who said they were probably voting for Davis could be persuaded, just as the 12% who said they’d probably vote for Chuck Conder could change their minds too.

More importantly though, 41% of the likely voters in the 4th Ward were undecided as to which candidate they’d cast their ballots for.

And only 13% were definitely for Davis and only 7% definitely for Chuck.

That left a ginormus 79% of likely voters who could still be persuaded to vote for either candidate.

But what was the best way to bring the majority of those voters over to the Chuck Conder column?

Well that had been my primary reason to conduct the poll.

I wanted to know which issues resonated with the voters, what things about Davis did they like and dislike, and what might they also like and dislike about Chuck.

With that information in hand, Chuck and I molded his winning campaign message and devised an attack strategy to inform the voters of Davis’s shortcomings in office.

That coupled with Chuck’s hours of daily precinct walking paid off.

When the ballots were counted on Election Night, Chuck Conder prevailed, upsetting the incumbent who thought he was safe.

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This wouldn’t have happened without Chuck’s hard work and 100% focus on winning. Nor would it have happened without a winning campaign story.

But without the data we learned from the poll, it all would have been a shot in the dark. Rather than overcoming a 19 percentage point deficit to win by 8 percentage points, it might have been an entirely different outcome.

However, the Conder campaign was equipped with solid polling data, a winning campaign story, and a challenger who out-worked a complacent incumbent.

Those three elements provided the results that came in on Election Night, June 6, 2017.

Candidate Take-Aways

If you are serious about winning you should budget the funds to conduct a good poll.

A good poll can show you what issues matter to the voters, which ones don’t, and which voters are most open to voting for you.

I highly suggest Matt Jason and Candid Research Solutions.

While Matt and I have done business for years, I’ve never received a commission or referral fee from he or his company. He’s simply the only pollster I trust to always give it to me straight.

Conduct a poll for your campaign and look closely at the data. 

If you’re behind, see if there are enough undecided or squishy supporters of your opponent that you can win over.

Look at the messages you tested. Craft a winning campaign story from your polling data then go work your butt off, telling your story to the voters.

That’s not only how Chuck Conder won, it’s how every candidate I’ve ever consulted for won their election in the last two decades.

It worked for them and I know it can also work for you.