The credibility of voter surveys has taken a hit in recent years with many people questioning the reliability of results for a number of reasons. The UK general election last year was predicted to be a very close race between Labour and Conservatives but ended up being a landslide for the Tories on election day. Equally, Donald Trump’s rise to the head of the Republican Party primary race seems to defy polls.
What might be the reason for this?
Mobile phone usage has had a huge impact on the contactability of respondents. Without the database of landline numbers, polling companies are finding it increasingly difficult to get hold of people.
Then, those people who can be reached have become very reluctant to take part in surveys. Only around 10% of people contacted will fill out surveys and they often need to be incentivised. The upshot of this is a skepticism about the demographic bias in many polls. Younger people are very difficult to reach or get to take part which can lead to skewed results when extrapolated out to the general population.
Finally, things move fast nowadays. Polls take a snapshot in time and an election day a couple of weeks away can be a very different proposition to today. All the more so when you are talking about elections that are going to take place in the cold of next Winter! The accuracy of polls increases as they become more local and closer to the day in question.
So what can candidates and campaigns do to get a better picture of how voters will vote?
The reality is, the more local voter polling becomes, the more accurate it is. For candidates, this means that you simply have to build surveys into your voter outreach process if you want to gain that valuable insight.
How do you do this?
Build surveys into everything you do, canvassing, social media outreach, your online presence and so on. Then feed this survey data back to one place for a really comprehensive, up to date picture.
Seeing as you are doing all of the hard work, make your surveys a bit more detailed so you can get more out of them. You are asking your voters questions that are relevant to them so think about asking more open-ended questions rather than just, “Who are you voting for?” and “Will you vote?”. Creating dynamic surveys that mine information about issues that are important at a local level has the knock-on effect of giving a really good impression of your campaign to the voter. It tells them that you understand the issues and you care about the responses you are hearing. Basically, it goes back to the idea of all politics being local.
Finally, open-ended and detailed surveys will allow the voters to lead the conversation and dictate campaign messaging to the candidates. It’s almost as if you are representing these people’s aggregated opinions, now wouldn’t that be an interesting idea.