New Polling Technology: Cutting-Edge Internet Surveys

New Polling Technology: Cutting-Edge Internet Surveys – Brief Article

Mark P. Maguire

By utilizing the most advanced audio and video streaming technology, the client can place a numeric value on the level of agreement or disagreement that exists within the electorate.

WE LAST WITNESSED A significant shift in research and political polling methodology when door-to-door interviewing was made obsolete by the introduction of the telephone. The best pollsters understood that this new medium offered an opportunity to contact previously inaccessible research subjects.

Although problems such as random sampling and the lack of true diversity arose, eventually the telephone became prevalent, and those problems disappeared.

Focus groups have become an extension of phone surveys. Focus groups offer rich qualitative information on a range of issues. A problem with focus groups, however, is that the typically small number of 10 to 12 participants offers no way of quantifying the data. The margin of error in those cases is infinite.

Furthermore, the problem associated with group dynamics appears within these small focus groups — oftentimes there are one or two dominant voices in the group that state their opinions while the others involved are left to shake their heads, showing agreement or disagreement.

A focus-group moderator’s job is to facilitate the discussion in order to uncover ideas and opinions, but even the best moderators are unable to cover all of the bases. Sometimes very significant ideas and opinions are missed because they stray too far from the planned script. In the case of political campaigns, an election can be lost as a direct result.

Until now, the cutting edge has been phone surveys and on-the-ground research studies like focus groups, and even more scientific studies that invoke the use of dial technology — the spinning of a rheostat to rate reactions in real time on a scale of 0-10 or 0-100.

The best dial technology can be very expensive because participants are highly paid in order to attract them to a central location. Also, like the more basic focus groups, dial technology is limited to specific brick-and-mortar locations.

Although it will be quite some time before the phone surveys and on-the-ground research such as focus groups go the way of door-to-door, we are witnessing the introduction of a new medium into the arenas of public opinion research and polling.

Sheer Numbers

What was true with the proliferation of the telephone is also true now as the Internet evolves; as the sheer numbers of users increase, the ability to conduct statistically accurate surveys becomes reality.

Basic quantitative surveys on the Internet give participants a range of options to choose from when answering questions. Internet chat rooms are used as an online version of focus groups that use data mining techniques to pick out certain key words or phrases. Although the participants voice their opinions, these technologies still lack true interactivity and dynamic ratings of opinions or issues that are uncovered. Furthermore, they are incapable of pinpointing which opinions and ideas are representative of specific segments of a widespread populace.

Today, as is often true with the introduction of new technologies, objections arise when a paradigm shift appears on the horizon. Pollsters and researchers need to embrace the capabilities of the Internet rather than dismiss its significance. As the Internet becomes the next universally accepted means of communication, interactivity will enhance the way public opinion research and polling is conducted.

Our firm for example, has a patented technology and methodology that they have recently released on the Internet. It is a hybrid of qualitative and quantitative research. The methodology offers a way to conduct real qualitative research with quantitative support because of the large sample sizes available on the Internet.

Sample sizes of hundreds or even thousands can be dynamically surveyed using streaming technology and a computer mouse as a replacement for the dial, bringing the margin of error down to more manageable single digits, and producing better research. It is like conducting several qualitative focus groups at once, except the analysis is easier and its user-friendliness offers the client much more flexibility in analyzing the data.

There have already been many end-user comments regarding the experience they have had using this new technology. It is described as being “very cool,” “cutting edge” and “the best survey tool yet.”

Imagine the ability to understand specific segments of the electorate and their opinions, voting preferences and critical issues. Imagine being able to uncover the future hot buttons before they become current, making it too late.

By using this technology, clients are given the ability to automatically break down the many different issues, concerns and opinions of the electorate by demographics — sex, education levels, income levels, religion, persuadables, etc. A candidate can test messages, ideas, campaign commercials, etc., and break them down to analyze them by region, state, and as the use and reach of the Internet increases, eventually by individual voting district.

The format of town hall forums will become more interactive and telling, and more valuable to everyone involved. In a recent test study conducted in New Hampshire for the Republican primary, the findings were amazingly accurate in matching up with the unexpected actual results.

By utilizing the most advanced audio and video streaming technology, the client can place a numeric value on the level of agreement or disagreement that exists within the electorate. One can, with statistical certainty, understand the opinions and immediately know whether or not those opinions are common to the rest of the electorate, or more specifically, if they are common to any particular segment within the electorate.

Recruitment is done in various ways including opt-in e-mail and banner ads, as well as more traditional methods. As the outreach of the Internet expands, recruiting methods will become much easier and the profiles of the audiences will more closely resemble all segments of the electorate.

Participants are paid depending on the client and the category of survey taken. In some cases there are Internet points, or some variation of Interactive money given, or chances at sweepstakes and contests; often times a donation is given in the participants name or a cash payment is given as an incentive.

In essence, the researcher’s job can be made easier because it offers more than interpretation — it offers true facts that are stated, elaborated upon, qualified and supported by the people. All of this is available in real-time.

The future of political polling and public opinion research is upon us. With the introduction of the Internet and new research methodologies, what once took weeks to complete can now be done faster, better, and more conclusively, offering a level of insight into the electorate that has never before been available.

Join the revolution!

Mark Maguire is a director and Brad Ashford is a vice president at, an interactive market research firm located in Bedford, Mass.

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