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Polling is Dead

Malinda Sanna

This seemed pretty obvious in 2016 but it’s crystal-clear now – the way political polls are conducted is no longer effective and can’t be trusted.

In fact, trust is what this comes down to, because unless people trust the source questioning them, they have no vested interest in sharing their opinion in an age when privacy is a real concern and people can feel unjustly vilified for their views.

Even more invalid are the one-off focus groups conducted by the major networks and pollsters such as Frank Luntz that get a disproportionate amount of attention. These samples are opaquely composed and not representative of anything. They are also misused (as focus groups usually are) by asking people for “one-word responses, ie “what’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say (insert candidate)” and other types of questioning that could just as well be answered in a survey, not in qualitative research. It’s staged for drama, not understanding. There’s little rigor in it and zero transparency regarding recruitment methods, which is essential to the integrity of any type of research.

Political research has to get much smarter, fast. To start with, there needs to be a better methodology than enlisting self-selecting samples off the Internet and interviewing people who answer phone calls from unknown numbers.

This is where I would make my pitch for using LookLook® mobile ethnography (featuring Real. Dynamic. Video.) but I have no desire to work on behalf of politicians. For reals, though, it is NOT ENOUGH to ask people if they think the country is going in the right direction or the wrong direction. That question gives me the same feeling as when I land in voice jail trying to reach a human being at my cable company. Shut. Down.

The most important question to ask in any piece of research is WHY. If pollsters would simply follow up with “why do you feel that way”… and thoughtfully analyze the responses, we would have a much better sense of the underlying tensions, concerns and values that drive decision-making.

It is the absence of this understanding that forces us to fill in with our own interpretation about why the “other side” is stupid, how can they vote for that guy, they are crazy, don’t they care about the future of the country, etc.

If people would be given the chance for fuller expression of their viewpoints, not forced into “chocolate, vanilla – CHOOSE”,  we would get a smarter, more nuanced feedback loop that we need – not just for successful political campaigns, but for us to understand each other as Americans.

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