Sizing Up Voters Through Panel Research

CBS News and YouGov are using panel research techniques to create Nation Tracker, a longitudinal look at where the American electorate stands now on President Trump and how they will react to his policies and actions during his presidency.

CBS News and YouGov are using panel research techniques to create Nation Tracker, a longitudinal look at where the American electorate stands now on President Trump and how they will react to his policies and actions during his presidency.

Public opinion polling is changing. A good example is the CBS News/YouGov Nation Tracker that gains insights from a large representative panel of participants who can be segmented and interviewed multiple times to see how their views shift over time.

Anthony Salvanto shared the first set of what will be ongoing insights on Sunday’s Face the Nation. Based on an online survey of panel participants, Salvanto said the nation’s view of Donald Trump as President breaks down into four categories – Believers (22%), Conditionals (22%), Curious (21%) and Resisters (35%).

The first category are true believers who think Trump is on the right track. Conditionals generally support Trump, but may not approve of everything he does or says. The Curious are opponent, but could be swayed depending on Trump actions. Resisters see no hope in Trump and oppose him across the board.

The key test for Trump, according to Salvanto, will be whether he makes good on his promise to restore the nation’s economy, especially for those who feel economically displaced and forgotten. If Trump shows marked economic improvement, Salvanto says he may have surprising political upside for the 40 percent of Americans who are conditionally supporting him now or are curious how he will fare.

Panel-based public opinion polling isn’t new, but it is getting more attention as a way to elicit a more nuanced understanding of what voters are thinking and reacting.  Panel research has some built-in advantages:

  • It employs larger sample sizes, which permit more reliable segmentation;
  • It enables follow-up questioning based on how people answer questions in a survey;
  • It allows tracking surveys to see how events influence panel participants in previous surveys.

The latter functionality of panel research is the reason CBS and YouGov chose this methodology to keep track of movement in the four categories of voters they drew out of the initial survey. For example, if President Trump backs out of NAFTA, the tracking poll could detect how that affects Believers, Conditionals, Curious and Resisters. Pollsters also will be able to probe more deeply through online focus groups with members of each category to see what specifically about the action caused them to respond positive or negative.

Frequent flash surveys, using the entire panel or categories within the panel give a weekly TV political talk show an ongoing source of reliable and original data. The data can be compelling enough for on-air use and detailed enough for longer exposition on a website. Over time, the branded data from NationTracker can be a hook for earned media coverage.

The bottom line is that viewers will get an easy-to-understand picture of the electorate in the Trump era and see how his actions and policies influence the electorate on much more sophisticated scale than whether voters like him or despise him.