Some pollsters got the harsh news they were bracing for Thursday when the FCC voted to approve new rules that further restrict their ability to reach voters for survey research.
Despite a vigorous late-inning lobbying effort by the polling industry’s trade group, the FCC refused to carve out an exemption for political survey research in its new restrictions on autodialing cellphones.
Moreover, the commission gave the greenlight to cellphone service providers to start offering robocall-blocking technology to their customers and will start penalizing surveyors that continue calling cellphones that have been reassigned to new users.
Pollsters have warned that the new rules will raise prices and make data-driven tools like turnout scores and modeling scores, which rely on automated technology, prohibitively expensive. While the Marketing Research Association, the industry trade group, was waiting to see the text of the regulations before commenting Thursday, some pollsters reacted swiftly to the vote.
"The number of people who actually respond to surveys is already a low number, and I would assume they see the value of polling,” said Brent Buchanan, whose firm Cygnal uses autodialers in its research. “We will still have to wait and see if predictive dialing gets looped into this new FCC rule, but I am very disappointed in the lack of foresight of that regulatory agency. Hopefully, we can do a better job of letting people know the importance polls play in our lives, so fewer people opt-out of robocalls.”
Meanwhile, Justin Wallin, of California-based Probolsky Research, said the ruling wouldn’t impact his business. “This is the same methodology we’ve been preaching for years: you dial cellphones, you dial them manually. If you don’t do that you won’t have accurate results,” Wallin said. “We’re not cheap so we don’t have to charge more. We’re just doing the same thing.”
Other parts of the FCC rulings Thursday earned praise from at least one firm. The commission reaffirmed “that consumers are entitled to the same consent-based protections for texts as they are for voice calls to wireless numbers.”
The Democratic digital firm Revolution Messaging, which in 2012 “petitioned the FCC to clarify and strictly enforce anti-spam laws” celebrated that as a “victory.”
“Today’s action by the FCC is a win for consumers and all political campaigns who want to use SMS to communicate with supporters respectfully and responsibly,” Scott Goodstein, founder of Revolution Messaging, said in a statement. “For too long, right wing political spammers have been hitting consumers with unwanted text messages. Under the cover of anonymity, spammers spewed offensive messages, lies, and even tried to keep certain voters away from the polls by sending false information.
“When not abused, text messaging is one of the best ways for people to stay in touch with the campaigns they support — from quick information surveys to sharing event details or breaking big news or announcements directly with supporters,” Goodstein said.
The commission said its rulings were based on consumer complains, which numbered more than 215,000 in 2014, and “almost two dozen petitions and other requests” that sought clarity on how it interprets the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.