A Political Poll That Hit the Mark

While most political polls predicted a Clinton victory, the USC/Los Angeles Times tracking poll, which used different kinds of questions and engaged the same poll of respondents, called the race accurately.

While most political polls predicted a Clinton victory, the USC/Los Angeles Times tracking poll, which used different kinds of questions and engaged the same poll of respondents, called the race accurately.

Political polling has taken another lick this election, but one poll predicted the outcome accurately, using techniques pollsters often diss.

The USC/Los Angeles Times tracking poll showed Donald Trump gaining momentum heading into the election, which contradicted the prevailing polling that showed the race tightening, but breaking in Hillary Clinton’s direction.

The tracking poll technology used in the 2016 election wasn’t experimental or new. It has been employed in 2012 on behalf of RAND Corp. and accurately projected president Obama’s re-election.

The two techniques that distinguished the USC/LA Times tracking poll were:

  • Respondents were asked on a 0-to-100 scale how likely they were to vote for a particular candidate; and
  • Respondents were part of 3,200-person panel, not randomly selected each time a survey was conducted.

“Lots of people don’t know for sure how they’re going to vote,” the LA Times reported about the polling technique. “Forcing them to choose before they are ready can distort what they’re thinking. Asking people to estimate the probability of voting for one of the other captures their ambivalence more accurately. Asking people to estimate their chance of voting allows us to factor in information everyone in the sample.”

Here is the punchline that may explain why traditional surveys missed the Trump surge that carried him to victory. “By contrast, polls that used a likely-voter screen can miss a lot of people who won’t meet the likely-voter test, but who in the end really do vote.”

Using a panel rather than a freshly selected random sample for each survey is a tried-and-true market research practice, but less common in public opinion polling. Its advantage is that survey is tracking the evolving views of the same people.

The USC/LA Times tracking poll culled 450 people daily from the larger panel and conducted a survey. Respondents were given up to seven days to respond. “Each day, we post results that are an average of the previous seven days of responses,” according to the LA Times. “Between those two factors – people taking up to seven days to respond and averaging seven days of result – the impact of an event might not be completed reflected in the poll for as long as two weeks."

“One of the problems polls face is that sometimes partisans on one side are more enthusiastic about responding to questions than those on the other side,” the LA Times explained. “Maybe their candidate has a particularly good week or the opposing candidate has had a bad one. When that happens, polls can suddenly shift simply because of who is willing to respond to a pollster’s call, which is called differential response.”

“Using a panel of the same people,” the newspaper added, “can ensure that when the poll results change, the shift reflects individuals changing their minds."

The Not-So-Secret Assent for a Donald Trump

Donald Trump’s surprising presidential victory Tuesday may be attributable to a seething American heartland that resented political elites and being consigned to second-class economic status.

Donald Trump’s surprising presidential victory Tuesday may be attributable to a seething American heartland that resented political elites and being consigned to second-class economic status.

People trying to understand Donald Trump’s attraction nationally need only look at two events in Oregon history.

Yes, Oregon, even though Hillary Clinton handily won the state’s electoral votes on Tuesday.

The first event is the so-called Northwest Timber Wars, which President Bill Clinton tried to resolve in the early 1990s through the Northwest Forest Plan.

Loggers and millworkers had been the bedrock of rural Oregon. Their good-paying jobs fueled local economies and enabled them to invest in the community good. Now those timber workers were seeing their jobs disappear to automation, environmental protections and global competition. But they were assured by the powers-that-be that government would help them retrain for a new economy, one that capitalized on the outdoors for tourism instead of timber-cutting.

That didn’t happen.

Dramatic shifts in careers don’t come easily, which should not have been a surprise to the establishment. But it was.

And even for those who found jobs, the tourism and hospitality industries didn’t pay nearly what the wood products industry did.

Those societal scars remain raw, as was evident in the second event, the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge early this year.

Almost all members of the Oregon establishment – public officials, the news media, civic and business leaders – condemned the occupation. The occupiers, who were protesting federal land management policies, were described as militants and extremists. Fittingly so.

Yet a jury in Portland last month found seven defendants not guilty on federal charges stemming from the occupation.

Maybe the federal prosecutors misjudged the case. Whatever the reason, the outcome defied conventional wisdom.

The commonalities in these two incidents are the long-simmering anger about being left behind economically. And about feeling the loss of one’s identity amid changing economic and demographic realities.

“Get over it” was the message that the establishment – even if inadvertently – sent to those left behind. Such a message inspires anger, not assent.

Donald Trump tapped into that anger across America. Meanwhile, the establishment believed its own conventional wisdom.   

Dick Hughes

Dick Hughes

Dick Hughes has 40 years’ experience as an Oregon journalist and most recently was editorial page editor, writing coach and Sunday columnist for Statesman Journal Media in Salem. Contact him at ramhughes@comcast.net or Twitter@DickHughes.

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.

Death By Meteor Outpolls Presidential Hopefuls

Millennial voters lack enthusiasm for this year’s presidential candidates, but don’t lack in humor, preferring in a poll a deadly meteor attack on earth over either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump winning the White House.

Millennial voters lack enthusiasm for this year’s presidential candidates, but don’t lack in humor, preferring in a poll a deadly meteor attack on earth over either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump winning the White House.

Public opinion polling can seem overly serious unless you ask some questions to mix things up. Like the UMass Lowell survey of the preferences of Millennials in the 2016 presidential election.

Twenty-five percent of youthful respondents said they would rather see a giant meteor strike earth than witness either Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton win the White House. Another 26 percent preferred a random lottery to pick a president. Forty percent wished President Obama would declare himself president for life.

The national survey was conducted between October 10-13 and interviewed a random sample of 1,247 adults ranging in age from 18 to 35. Final results were weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies based on age, gender, race, education and region.

The poll wasn’t all playful. There also were serious questions and some surprising answers. For example, Millennial respondents favored Clinton over Trump by a 3-to-1 margin. Not a surprise. But it was surprising that 41 percent of respondents said immigration should be curtailed, while 30 percent said it should be increased.

Not surprisingly, 58 percent of Millennials want to see recreational marijuana use legalized. Somewhat surprisingly, Millennials give GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence about the same level of support as they do Trump.

The biggest trend takeaway is the precipitous drop ins Millennials who identify with the Republican Party. According to Joshua Dyck, co-director of the UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion, Millennials have been abandoning the GOP in droves since 2008.

“In the 2004 election, you voters were closely divided: Democrat John Kerry won 18 to 29 year olds by 11 points,” Dyck said. “The nomination of Donald Trump appears only to have made things worse for Republicans” as only one in four Millennials now identify themselves as Republicans.

“Since party identification is something that people tend to carry with them throughout their lives,” Dyck added, “the GOP is not just digging a hole in this election, but setting the stage for further losses as Millennials get older and a bigger part of the electorate.”

For now, enthusiasm among this age for either Clinton or Trump is waning, which could make the election closer than anticipated. What isn’t waning, however, is Millennial humor. How else to explain preferring a life-extinguishing meteor attack over either major party presidential candidate.

Last summer, The Washington Post carried a story suggesting Millennials regarded the presidential choice this year as a joke. One University of Wisconsin student said the election seemed more like a prank than an audition for the most powerful job on earth.

Prexy Campaigns Can Turn Research Techniques into Best Practices

Because so few voters remain undecided in the 2016 presidential campaign, the St. Louis presidential debate featured questions from undecided voters, reinforcing the market research technique of talking directly with a target audience

Because so few voters remain undecided in the 2016 presidential campaign, the St. Louis presidential debate featured questions from undecided voters, reinforcing the market research technique of talking directly with a target audience

The 2016 presidential campaign has been punctuated by polling. It also has showcased other research techniques that can produce useful and fairly reliable results.

The second presidential debate featured an audience in St. Louis of undecided voters who were given a chance to question the candidates. The two presidential debates and the vice presidential debate were followed by on-air focus groups. Both major party candidates lean heavily on new media to get out their messages and use analytics to measure their “share of voice” and affinity with target audiences.

As the presidential race has grown market in tone, another type of research has emerged from the shadows – opposition research. With a treasure trove of resources to scour, fact-checking has become as good as or better than opposition research.

These techniques aren’t necessarily revolutionary, but they represent a quantum leap from the groundbreaking outreach techniques as recently as the 2008 presidential election won by Barack Obama.

While political polls have been unmasked as variable depending upon their samples and sampling techniques, efforts to hear directly from target audiences immediately after a debate have been widely lauded as telling. Fortunately, these groups have been asked to respond to questions about whether candidates made their point rather than whether they won the debate.

In one on-air focus group following the second presidential debate, six people – three for Donald Trump and three for Hillary Clinton – were questioned. The three Trump supporters expressed varying degrees of disgust with the GOP nominee’s taped remarks about women, but said they still supported him. Subsequent polling verified that Trump’s core supporters weren’t deserting him. The on-air focus group provided human-scale answers about why.

Because most people already have made up their minds between Clinton and Trump, it was a smart choice to populate the St. Louis debate audience with undecided voters. Their questions and reactions to candidate answers provided a unique window into what might tip them one direction or the other. The final question asking candidates to identify one thing they respect about their rival generated about the only positive moment in a debate that was described by commentators as a knife fight.

The growing role and importance of digital and social media is the most notable difference with past presidential campaigns. As recently as 2008, GOP nominee John McCain declined to have a digital presence. That would be unthinkable today.

Trump is a master of Twitter, turning tweets into cascades of traditional media coverage. Clinton’s campaign has used engagement techniques such as giving Instagram users a chance to pick her pantsuit color and posting videos after high-profile events to saturate social and digital media, aiming at key constituencies from Latinos to Millennials. The analytics available on social and digital media provide instant feedback, which enables quick turns on content and an ability to promote content that is trend worthy on the most promising channels.

Opposition research isn’t new either, but what makes it seem new is that it you see or hear the results in video or audio clips. The “official” record for a candidate extends far beyond how he or she voted on a particular bill. As Trump discovered, it can include a hot-mic tape of a conversation in a van.

Fact-checking by third-party watchdog groups has become a powerful fuse for social media information sharing. It is a form of research that can have a cumulative effect on how voters view the veracity of candidates.

Techniques centering on talking directly to target audiences and measuring online impacts are not unique to politics. Nor is opposition research of third-party fact-checking. But political campaigns have a habit of bringing some techniques into the sunlight and turning them into market research best practices.