Strategic Communications #16: 10 Uses for Surveys and Polling

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(This is the 16th in a continuing series on strategic communications. Click here for earlier segments)

By Owen Eagan, The Saint Consulting Group

Polling and survey research are invaluable tools for measuring all types of issues.  They typically provide us with a measurement as a snapshot in time and help us identify trends over longer periods of time.

As an example, many people think that unemployment figures are derived from unemployment insurance claims, but they are actually obtained via a monthly government survey called the Current Population Survey (see http://1.usa.gov/b1Zri).  In rare cases, polling and survey research can even provide us with a daily measurement such as Rasmussen Reports’ Daily Presidential Tracking Poll (see http://bit.ly/9FdOdt).

However, polling and survey research can also be used for a variety of strategic purposes.  That is, in addition to gauging voter awareness and attitudes on a variety of issues, it can be used to test messages, target key demographics, and measure the efficacy of your campaign efforts.

For instance, campaigns usually begin with a benchmark survey to gain an understanding of where your candidate or issue stands with voters.  This benchmark survey should begin with an unbiased question to get an accurate assessment of the current political dynamics.

Next, you should consider testing messages that you and your opponents will likely use to persuade voters.  After reading the primary arguments both for and against your candidate or issue, you should retest your initial question to see how effective these messages are.

To get a better understanding of which messages are the most effective, you should next test how convincing they are on a scale ranging from those that are very convincing to those that are not at all convincing.  Then, after all of the message testing, you should once again test your initial question to see if people changed their opinion throughout the course of the survey.

Subsequently, the survey should also test sources of opinions and information, or messengers, to see which have the greatest weight.  Messengers should also be tested on a scale ranging from those that have a great deal of weight to those that have none at all.

Lastly, a series of demographics questions should be asked such as political affiliation, age, education, ethnicity and race.  Using cross-tabs, these questions will enable you to identify who your voters are and, more importantly, who your undecideds and persuadables are.  Persuadables are those individuals most influenced by your message as indicated by the change in their level of support throughout your survey.

Based on your results, your supporters are those people that you should target for GOTV efforts, and your persuadables and undecideds are those people that you should target most aggressively with your voter outreach and education efforts, with particular emphasis on the persuadables.  As your campaign progresses, tracking polls should be used to assess the efficacy of your strategy execution.

In addition, polling and survey research can also be used as part of your public relations strategy.  For example, if your project is found to enjoy widespread support in the community, you can use your results to generate earned media and provide political cover for public officials to support your proposal.  You may even want to include other questions in your poll for the benefit of strategic partners who are interested in particular issues.  Or, you may want to include questions to help you identify burning community issues that you could address through corporate social responsibility programs.

In sum, there are at least 10 strategic uses of polling and survey research:

  1. Get a baseline assessment of awareness and attitudes towards your project.
  2. Test your messages and those of your opponents and how they move voters overall.
  3. Understand how convincing certain messages are.
  4. Determine which messengers have the most credibility.
  5. Identify your supporters, opponents, undecideds and persuadables.
  6. Track the efficacy of your campaign efforts.
  7. Generate earned media opportunities.
  8. Provide political cover for public officials.
  9. Gather political intelligence for strategic partners.
  10. Ascertain burning community issues to support through corporate social responsibility programs.

Owen Eagan is a Senior Consultant for The Saint Consulting Group, email eagan@tscg.biz, phone 781-831-2494.

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