Online Polling, Editorial Standards and Fox News

Fox News reportedly reprimanded Sean Hannity for citing inaccurate online polls as evidence GOP nominee prevailed inMonday night’s first presidential debate over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Fox News reportedly reprimanded Sean Hannity for citing inaccurate online polls as evidence GOP nominee prevailed inMonday night’s first presidential debate over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Presidential candidates routinely claim they win debates. GOP nominee Donald Trump buttressed his claims by citing online poll results after Monday night’s debate. Fox News hosts joined Trump in ballyhooing the online poll results.

However, according to Business Insider, Dana Blanton, the vice president of public opinion research at Fox News, circulated a memo Tuesday that says opt-in or self-selected online polls are subject to crowd-jamming and don’t meet the network’s editorial standards for legitimate, newsworthy polling results.

“We know some campaigns/groups of supporters encourage people to vote in online polls and flood the results," she wrote. "These quickie click items do not meet our editorial standards."

"News networks and other organizations go to great effort and rigor to conduct scientific polls – for good reason," Blanton wrote in the memo. "They know quick vote items posted on the web are nonsense, not true measures of public opinion.”

"Fox News policy is to focus on non-partisan telephone polls (with both landlines & cellphones) that use live interviewers, and random digit-dial sampling techniques – a methodology that enables everyone an equal chance of being interviewed,” Blanton said.

The use of non-scientific poll results as news can be a problem when polls with representative samples show vastly different results, as was the case with the Trump-Hillary Clinton debate. A CNN “instant” poll conducted after the survey with a representative sample of debate viewers showed Clinton won the debate over Trump by a 49 percent to 26 percent margin.

Many political commentators have bemoaned this as a post-fact era, when truth or accuracy are no longer standards to determine facts.  Interestingly, at least two Fox News hosts, including Trump booster Sean Hannity, continued to cite the quickie polls, which Blanton called nonsense, as evidence of Trump’s triumph in Monday’s debate. Not surprisingly, Trump tweeted his approval of such reports.

As we have pointed out in previous blog posts about election-year public opinion polling, readers and voters need to take care in assessing results and not assume the results are true.

News agencies in particular have shown a tendency to highlight certain poll results that support a running narrative, such as a tightening race. Credible pollsters using different methodologies can come up with varying results, without trying to mislead. But without question polling techniques can be used – including self-selected polls on websites with a definite political bent .

The bottom line: Listen warily to online poll results. Trust your own judgment as to who won or lost based on what you actually saw and heard in a debate. Everything else is often just spin.

Four Different Pollsters, Four Different Results

Political polling can vary widely based on factors such as who is interviewed and the weighting pollsters give to likely voters, white voters, Hispanic voters and black voters.

Political polling can vary widely based on factors such as who is interviewed and the weighting pollsters give to likely voters, white voters, Hispanic voters and black voters.

Wariness of presidential political polls is warranted. The New York Times conducted an experiment that involved four different pollsters evaluating the same data set, which produced four different results.

Hillary Clinton received 42 percent support in two of the four polls and 39 percent and 40 percent in the other two. Donald Trump topped out at 41 percent in one poll, 39 percent in another and 38 percent in the other two. The Times “benchmark” poll had it 41 percent for Clinton and 40 percent for Trump.

The experiment highlights how polling, even by credible pollsters, can vary widely within the acceptable norms of polling. Critical variables include a representative sample, sampling error and basic assumptions. The latter accounted for the variance in the Times experiment that centered on the same 867 poll responses.

The most significant variables in the pollster analysis of response data: predicting the percentage of white, Hispanic and black likely voters in the November 8 general election.

When white voters reached 70 percent and Hispanic voters fell to 13 percent, Trump came out ahead by a percentage point.

When white voters were estimated at 68 percent and Hispanic voters at 15 percent, Clinton prevailed by 3 percentage points.

These choices weren’t random. Different pollsters relied on different models or sources of data. For example, the pollster who predicted the biggest lead for Clinton used self-reported intentions for likely voters, traditional weighting and Census data. The pollster who gave the nod to Trump relied on voter history to determine likely voters, a weighting model and voter files.

Their varying decisions on these questions add up to big differences in the result,” according to Nate Cohn in The Upshot report on polling. “In general, the pollsters who used vote history in the likely voter model showed a better result for Mr. Trump.”

Laid bare, the experiment shows “there really is a lot of flexibility for pollsters to make choices that generate a fundamentally different result. You can see why we say it’s best to average polls and to stop fretting so much about single polls.”

Tom Eiland is a CFM partner and the leader of the firm’s research practice. His work merges online research with client communications and engagement efforts, and he has a wide range of clients in the education, health care and transportation sectors. You can reach Tom at tome@cfmpdx.com.

Intercept Research Reveals the Why Behind Customer Actions

Intercepts can be a valuable way to find out why a customer shopped in your store or bought a specific product.

Intercepts can be a valuable way to find out why a customer shopped in your store or bought a specific product.

One of the most overlooked research strategies is the intercept, where researchers observe or ask for customer comment at the point of sale.

It is one thing to ask someone whether they would this or that product and quite another to ask a customer why she just bought the product in her shopping bag.

In the marketing world, there is an entire universe of metrics to measure whether a marketing campaign is working. But one metric that often is missing is the interaction with a customer who purchased what is being marketed. Failure to use intercept research can lead to a lack of understanding of customer motivation – the why behind the purchase.

Marketers may think customers buy something because of clever messaging. However, intercept research might show customers are actually drawn to a product because its packaging sticks out on the shelf next to similar other products. Good to know. That could influence advertising to focus more on the package and less on the clever words.

My son-in-law runs a large number of Jack in the Box restaurants. The fast food chain has long used a quirky, wisecracking character as its brand mascot. Jack Box has been the dominant feature in the chain’s advertising for years, but after intercept testing, brand executives discovered customers came to the restaurant when they saw food they liked, not because of Jack’s white head or wisecracks. Jack in the Box ads now still show Jack, but give a far more prominent place to the food.

It’s a small difference, but a significant one. My son-in-law said business has been booming since the emphasis in the ads changed.

Jack in the Box TV spots still include Jack Box, the quirky, ball-headed band mascot, but now the food the restaurant chain serves gets more prominent play.

Jack in the Box TV spots still include Jack Box, the quirky, ball-headed band mascot, but now the food the restaurant chain serves gets more prominent play.

Intercept research can take multiple forms – a follow-up phone call or email, a questionnaire at the point-of-sale or an exit interview. The more personal the intercept, the higher likelihood of a response. The closer to the point-of-sale, the most likely you will receive an unfiltered response.

The power of intercept research is that it is based on actions, not reactions or projections. Intercept research explores the realm of past tense, not future tense. You talk to actual customers or, in the case of elections, actual voters. What we call exit polls are in reality just another form of intercept research.

Some people don’t view intercepts as real research. They aren’t necessarily statistically valid as you would expect from a telephone survey. They may be skewed by who is willing to participate and those who don’t want to be bothered. But their saving grace is that the people who are interviewed are connected with the product, service or action being tested. That is its own form of validity.

Intercept research is the research tool to use when you want to measure what someone did or bought and ask the all-important question of why. Knowing why someone did something can be the golden key to encouraging them to do it again.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Getting the Message Right

A winning message is one that has been tested to ensure its words and imagery click with the audience it is intended to impress. You could be eating humble pie if you don’t test your messaging first.

A winning message is one that has been tested to ensure its words and imagery click with the audience it is intended to impress. You could be eating humble pie if you don’t test your messaging first.

Organizations can be forced to eat humble pie when they don’t test their branding, key messages or product explanations to make sure their intended audience understands what they are trying to convey.

Staff brainstorming can produce clever ideas, but they aren’t strategic concepts unless tested to make sure they click with customers. Ditto for creative material that can sing to an internal audience, but fall flat with the people you are trying to convince.

Getting the message right is all about making sure you're using the right words, images and emotional content for the particular audience. The only way to have a degree of confidence you are right is to run it by a representative sample of people you seek to reach.

Smart organizations tap into their consumers or target audiences to identify and test messages that work. It takes nothing more than asking questions. In fact, most organizations already have tools that could be employed for effective marketing and communications efforts.

Use focus groups

Invite a small sample of people who fit the target audience to meet with you. Ask questions about the issue or product. Listen closely to the words they use and the concepts they describe. The language they use is the language you need to use to make them understand what you mean. It could be as simple as turning a familiar phrase.

Example: A health insurance client used focus groups to identify new messaging for promotional material. After changing brochures and ads to new consumer-furnished messages, sales increased by 6 percent.

Add a few open-ended questions to surveys

Provide respondents the opportunity to explain what they like, want or need. Ask how they talk about products and issues with their friends. Identify what is important. A note of caution, though: Be sure the survey sample matches the characteristics of the intended audience for the communication effort.

Example: A physician network used comments from an online survey to identify topics for newsletters, content for social media posts and ad themes. The rate of opens and clicks increased as content became more relevant.

Tap into social media

Creating conversations about the product or issue. Follow up with certain individuals to probe for additional information. Again, pay close attention to the words they use and how they approach your product, service or concept.

The key to effective messaging is making it relevant, informative and persuasive. Be sure what you say is important to the audience while providing meaningful information conveyed in words and imagery that resonates with them.

Tom Eiland is a CFM partner and the leader of the firm’s research practice. His work merges online research with client communications and engagement efforts, and he has a wide range of clients in the education, health care and transportation sectors. You can reach Tom at tome@cfmpdx.com.

Survival of the Biggest in Healthcare

In a case of a survival of the biggest, large health care organizations are getting bigger, raising eyebrows and concerns among Oregon business and government leaders who worry about the impact on prices, choices and even quality.

In a case of a survival of the biggest, large health care organizations are getting bigger, raising eyebrows and concerns among Oregon business and government leaders who worry about the impact on prices, choices and even quality.

Oregon decision makers are raising the caution flag over consolidation in the health care industry. A recent CFM/Oregon Business online survey found nearly three in four (74 percent) are very or somewhat concerned about the ongoing trend of consolidation in healthcare.

The CFM/Oregon Business online survey was conducted in April among 293 business and government managers.

While the media has focused primarily on recent mergers in the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries, a similar trend has been largely overlooked in the healthcare services market, including health systems, hospitals and physician clinics.

In the Pacific Northwest, Providence Health & Services and OHSU have significantly expanded their market footprints through acquisitions, mergers, affiliations and partnerships. Legacy acquired the Silverton Health System and Kaiser acquired Group Health. A few years ago Southwest Washington Medical Center in Clark County Washington became part of the PeaceHealth organization. Similar consolidation is occurring throughout the country.

Industry leaders tout the benefits of consolidation, citing lower administrative costs, improved efficiencies in capital investments and better quality of care and outcomes. However, Oregon decision makers aren’t sure bigger is better. In addition to being concerned about merger activity in general, decision makers think the problems associated with consolidation will outweigh the benefits in the following seven of eight areas: 

A majority of decision makers say consolidation will have a negative impact on:

· Cost of healthcare services (66 percent negative impact)

· Access to routine healthcare services in rural areas (53 percent negative impact)

· Overall customer service (52 percent negative impact)

 Managers think the impact of consolidation would more likely be negative than positive for:

· Ability to schedule appointments for routine care when you want it (44 percent negative impact)

· Overall quality of healthcare (38 percent)

· Level of respect and courtesy patients will experience (37 percent negative impact)

· Access to medical specialists (32 percent negative impact)

At best, managers were evenly divided about the range of services available (30 percent positive, 29 percent negative impact).

So what does it all mean? Healthcare providers face an uphill battle to reduce concerns about consolidation. As consolidation continues, as it surely will, organizations should develop trust and confidence by implementing these five key pieces of advice.

· Deliver on the promise of better quality of care.

· Be transparent about costs.

· Improve operations, like billings.

· Increase access and availability of care in urban, suburban and rural areas.

· Make every patient touchpoint a positive experience.

Tom Eiland is a CFM partner and the leader of the firm’s research practice. His work merges online research with client communications and engagement efforts, and he has a wide range of clients in the education, health care and transportation sectors. You can reach Tom at tome@cfmpdx.com.

 

Amid Alarming Terrorism, War Declines Worldwide

News headlines make it seem as if the world is blowing up when in reality war between nations involving uniformed soldiers is the lowest it has been in decades.                                        (Photo Credit: DAVID BONAZZI FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE)

News headlines make it seem as if the world is blowing up when in reality war between nations involving uniformed soldiers is the lowest it has been in decades.                                        (Photo Credit: DAVID BONAZZI FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE)

Newspaper headlines blare that we live in dangerous times, but that overshadows another reality – we also live in one of the most peaceful times in modern history.

Despite high-profile terrorist attacks, data shows the number of deaths caused by war is markedly lower than in any time since World War II. When the Colombian government signed a ceasefire with rebels in June, it ended the lone remaining military conflict in the entire Western Hemisphere.

In a blog posted on Medium, political economist Angus Hervey wrote, “If you can tear your attention away from the 24-hour news cycle, you’ll be astonished to hear that we are experiencing one of the least discussed, yet most remarkable cultural shifts of all time: war, one of our species’ most abiding and defining social practices, is at its lowest ebb.”

An op-ed written by Joshua Goldstein and Steven Pinker in the Boston Globe claims, “For nearly two-thirds of a century, from 1945 to 2011, war had been in overall decline. The global death rate had fallen from 22 per 100,000 people to 0.3.”

There have been new armed conflicts in the Middle East, Africa and Ukraine. “The Syrian civil war became the bloodiest conflict in a generation, with hundreds of thousands killed, millions displaced, and multiple foreign powers joining the fight or supporting their proxies,” Goldstein and Pinker concede. But, they add, a partial ceasefire in Syria has sharply reduced casualties, the ceasefire in Ukraine has largely held and Boko Haram is being driven out of large chunks of its previously held territory.

“But, mercifully, as the major wars have died down, new ones have not sprung up in their place,” Goldstein and Pinker say. “Of special note is the continuing absence of wars between the world’s uniformed national armies. These forces exceed 20 million soldiers and are armed to the teeth. Yet the last sustained war between these armies was in 2003, in Iraq.”

Hervey stresses that war isn’t extinct. But it is declining, especially between states with some form of democracy. “After centuries of hard-earned lessons, people are starting to understand that governance really matters,” he wrote. “Democracy is more prevalent today than ever before, and despite all its obvious flaws, it’s still a hell of a lot better than authoritarianism and feudal serfdom.”

“Since democracies don’t usually go to war with each other, the likelihood of interstate war, which kills more people than the kinds of intermittent, non-state conflicts we see today, is declining,” Hervey concluded. "As the world becomes more interconnected, the powerful have ever more incentives to avoid the catastrophic economic consequences of going to war, too. Conflict isn’t good for your economy in a world of dense trade networks and digital flows.”

Hervey says as major warfare declines, mankind has “an opportunity to turn our collective efforts to overcoming other forms of violence such as domestic abuse, slavery and racial, political and religious persecution.” He might have added the “violence” caused by drug addiction and climate change.

The world isn’t good enough, but it seems to be getting better. “War,” Hervey says, “is not inevitable."