Ask academics what the challenge with polling is these days and they’ll likely point to something like differential non-response bias. The Tarrance Group’s new CEO, longtime partner B.J. Martino, has a different perspective.
“It’s just getting harder to get people on the phone,” he told C&E.
To boost sample sizes, pollsters like Martino are going multi-mode: text-to-web surveys, texting cellphone respondents in advance to ensure they’ll answer their phones when the survey call comes in, and online panels to compliment live-call surveys.
But where Martino sees big data’s potential breakthrough solution is in determining what mode of contact works best for the individual voter to give the surveyors the highest chance of reaching them.
“It’s going to be very diverse — the ways in which we get respondents in the future,” he said.
For now, data partnerships are helping Martino ensure that sampling is effective as early and absentee voting starts.
“We can look within the data and understand of those voters who are left, who are those that would vote for us if they show up on Election Day (and the message to them needs to be one of motivation), and then which of those messages are persuasive for those voters who are probably going to come on Election Day, but haven’t quite made up their mind yet,” he said.
“We very much have a complimentary relationship to [data firms]. They are the Big Data and they help you make a lot of small decisions: Which individual voters fit in which buckets? And we are the small data, the guys who help you make a few big decisions: What’s the general theme of this race? What are the few big messages that we need to make sure voters hear about our campaign?”
Martino isn’t concerned that traditional polling shops like his will lose business to data shops and their modeling products, though.
“The one thing a model can never answer for you is why do voters feel this way and that’s where the qualitative comes in,” he said.
One thing he is concerned about is that poor public polling could impact response rates, which are already facing pressure.
“It causes problems when there’s so much public polling,” he said. “There [are] lot of bad polls out there, [which] cause voters to lose the ability to trust the polls and trust what public pollsters are telling us about where public opinion is.
“The largest concern is with an electorate that loses trust in polling writ large and thus doesn’t want to participate or be a part of public opinion research. That only exacerbates any problem that is already out there.”