Opinion polling is a major part of modern campaigning and politics.
If you doubt this, just turn on your preferred cable news channel. There’s a good bet there’s a story being discussed about the latest poll on something.
Many candidates make the mistake of thinking that polls are only for national or statewide candidates, and not for local races. They’re wrong.
In my career I have won several city council races and two local ballot measures because I had good polling to chart a course to victory.
If I didn’t have those polls, it’s a good bet my campaigns would have lost.
Whenever it is reasonable to do so, and the campaign has the money to, I ask that my candidates to do a poll.
My go to pollster is Matthew Jason the owner of Candid Research Solutions.
Matthew Jason was kind enough to agree to the following online interview where he shares his knowledge and expertise on the process of public opinions surveys and research, commonly referred to as polling.
How long have you been in the polling business?
I have been in the polling business now since I graduated college back in 1998. I guess that means 17 years.
What type of opinion research do you conduct?
I conduct all kinds of opinion research.
Telephone surveys, online surveys, mobile device surveys, focus groups, on-line discussion boards, etc. It all depends on what my clients need to accomplish.
Could you explain the different kinds of polls you conduct?
I would categorize the polls I conduct into three main groupings:
Candidate (political) surveys, public affairs surveys (ballot initiatives and/or issue or project-related items which are likely to end up figuring into an election), and corporate surveys (marketing or measuring external or internal satisfaction regarding a company or product).
There is, of course, a lot of crossover between the three groupings, especially the first two.
What types of political campaigns have you done polling for?
I have done polling for political campaigns at nearly all levels — city council and county supervisor district campaigns, State Assembly and State Senate district campaigns, United States Congressional district campaigns, and statewide campaigns for both candidates and ballot initiatives.
I have conducted national surveys before on many occasions for public affairs and corporate clients.
I have not yet conducted a national survey on behalf of a Presidential candidate.
What would the advantage be for a local campaign doing a poll?
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.
Meanwhile, their opponents will likely be running campaigns based on speculation and what they “think” voters want.
You would be surprised (or maybe you would not be given the cynicism so prevalent today) how many local candidates are actually out of touch with those on whom they are dependent for votes on election day.
What are the most important types of information that a candidate can get from a poll?
It is always nice to have hard facts about how well known a candidate is or where they stand in relation to their opponents on a ballot question, but to me the most important type of information a local candidate can get from a poll is a feel for the issue environment inside their city or district.
You can never overestimate how important it is to know which issues truly have the power to motivate people to vote in general and, more specifically, to choose a specific local candidate.
Even more important is knowing which issues motivate men more than women, young voters more than seniors, or Republicans more the Democrats.
Being able to target a candidate’s messaging allows you to maximize limited campaign resources.
How much does the intensity of a voter’s opinion matter?
I am a huge proponent of intensity.
We live in a world where a lot of people will take the easy way out and just tell you what they think you want to hear, especially on the telephone where no eye contact is possible.
Forcing voters to say they “strongly” or “definitely” feel one way or another negates a lot of that.
If you want to separate out the “go along, get along” people and really know where your candidate stands or what issue is truly a difference maker, your poll needs to measure intensity wherever it can.
How many weeks before Election Day should a candidate be doing a poll?
If local campaigns are going to conduct a survey, my opinion is they should do it as soon as possible after the filing has closed in their city or county.
You want to make sure you know who all the candidates are and their official ballot designations, but you also want to have as much time as possible to utilize your polling results to their fullest potential.
You always have the option of doing a second quick track survey closer to election day if something major happens in your campaign or if you want to see what impact your messaging is having on voters, but the early survey will give you far more bang for your buck.
I’ve seen candidates do tracking polls the weekend before an election. This seems like a waste of money to me because even if the information is 100% correct, there’s barely any time left to make changes to messaging and targeting. What is the latest a candidate should be doing a poll before Election Day?
I agree with you entirely on this.
Unless your campaign just has money to burn, I can see no reason to conduct a tracking survey unless you do so enough in advance to allow you to at least modify your final mail pieces or fine tune the scripts being used by those spearheading your GOTV efforts.
In practical terms, this usually means your last survey should be wrapped up by the middle of the week before the election.
With huge numbers of Californians now becoming “permanent absentee” voters and casting their votes in the mail weeks before the election, the need to do polling earlier in the process is only increased.
Do you do any automated push button polling? Why or why not?
I do not do any of the automated polling.
It is simply not something with which I have ever been associated in my career in the polling industry.
Do you do any online polling? Why or why not?
I have done a lot of online polling in my career.
It is now the dominant mode of research in the corporate world. That said, it will be a long time before online polling takes the place of telephone research in the political world, especially as it relates to local politics.
In order to conduct a valid political survey, you need to talk to a lot of people who you know are likely to cast a ballot in the upcoming election of interest.
When you figure in bad telephone numbers, answering machines, and people who simply refuse to participate in a survey, it takes a very large number of raw phone numbers to complete a properly balanced survey.
It is only really possible even now if you are prepared to make cell phone interviewing part of your process. My surveys now always include at least 25% of the interviews being conducted on cell phones.
Unless you are doing a statewide or national research project, the odds are there are not enough raw email addresses available in your area, let alone addresses that you can match to actual known voters.
Even if you can get a certain raw number of email addresses, it is very likely your sample will not include enough of the oldest voters (who generally make up a large percentage of those most likely to vote).
We may well someday reach a point in history where everyone has an email address and those addresses are available as freely as telephone numbers, but I still think we are 5 to 10 years away from that day arriving.
If you are interested in utilizing Candid Research Solutions polling expertise for your campaign, you can reach the company through its website CandidSolutions.us.