Consultants are still agonizing over whether polls and focus groups can provide accurate or useful information in 2018. Even with recent modeling improvements by some pollsters, there’s doubt about their numbers.
Now, there are a variety of ways that campaigns can help enhance the accuracy of their survey research, social listening being one of them. Another bleeding-edge option, which hasn't gotten as much attention, is biometric research.
Voter biometrics is a relatively new research discipline that removes the potential for a voter lying and gets at the unalloyed truth of his or her views. It does so by taking certain biometric readings from voters’ minds and bodies and uses to Artificial Intelligence (AI) to accurately interpret them, so humans, with all their biases, can’t interfere.
Biometric readings include brainwave activity, heart rate, skin conductance, perspiration, and so forth. It turns out that these bodily impulses, when fairly analyzed, provide better indicators of voters’ likelihood to act one way or another than their voice, pen, or keyboard.
This survey research can be done two ways. One is as a focus group, if clients want to observe, or the most common way is for voters to see the candidate videos on their cellphones while they have a biometric band strapped to their wrist. In our research, the band sends signals that come to our website for processing. The campaign manager then uses the website to review the results as they build.
If it’s the former, respondents are paid an individual honorarium for attending. If it’s the latter, respondents receive regular small incentives that are a natural part of maintaining a voter panel (paid by the panel company).
The panel companies, which include Research Now, Lightspeed, et cetera, recruit the panelists according to a screener we send them. The screener seeks a high degree of balance in the sample according to things like: Party affiliation, past voting, gender, income and ethnicity.
For the focus group method, we use a similar screener, but sometimes a perfect balance is harder to achieve because you have fewer respondents to work with.
Why spend extra money to get a biometric result? Most campaigns this cycle—large or small, left or right, in whatever race—will find it difficult to identify centrist voters who believe it’s safe to vote for their candidate.
Simply put, voters lie. Good research shows that they lie characteristically to please the focus group moderator, to hurry along the phone interview, and for other reasons. Sometimes they lie and they don’t quite know why.
Voters’ true feelings are, unfortunately, corrupted by the unreliable filters of their oral and written self-reports to pollsters and focus group moderators. To fix this problem, voter biometrics take the voter disposition directly from the mind and heart of the voter, not relying on the fickle voice, keyboard, or writing instrument.
Now, voter biometrics has come out of the esoteric academic world, is moving slowly into the realm of a practical and applied political research discipline. As a result, campaigns need to better understand how to use the tool for improved accuracy and insight into voter behavior and intention in their races and jurisdictions.
They need to reach out to the young, emerging crop of political biometric researchers and seriously consider voter biometrics as an adjunct to, or in lieu of, polls and focus groups.
Reading voter biometrics is more accurate than polls and focus groups. Even if campaigns don’t heartily adopt voter biometrics in 2018, they need to understand a little of the science because by 2020 everybody, including the cable networks, will be using biometric panels instead of straight polls.
Jerry Johnson is a director at Cascade Strategies, a market research firm based in Issaquah, Wash.