So you still have a land line and that phone has been ringing off the wall lately with the most random of calls. Political candidates are sending out automated messages to ask for your vote or the political pollster is calling to see if you would be willing to answer a few questions about a race in your district. Sound familiar? If you vote, it should!
And, because today is the last primary election day for the 2014 campaign cycle, (Yes, it is an election year!) I did some reading up on a few of the races across the country because I’m just weird like that. Let it be known that the polls are showing Governor Cuomo in New York refuses to acknowledge he has an opponent challenging him from the left ( no surprise there) and that Scott Brown should handily win the Republican Primary for Senate in New Hampshire, but by how much is hard to say. Fair enough. We’ll see how it all shakes out tonight and if these polls were accurate or not.
Polls are fun to follow but candidates use polling for lots of different reasons.
Polls can be conducted generically at the beginning of a race to learn about what issues are important to the public, or in this case, the primary election voter.
For example, if you were running for the Republican nomination for state senate in Oklahoma (ha), you would conduct your survey using information only from registered republican voters in your district who have a good voting record (meaning they show up to vote in the primaries). Why is this important? Because if they have turned out to vote in the last primary and the one before that, and the one before that, the chances are pretty good they will turn out again, making them a “likely voter.”
How would someone like me or a candidate have that information? Well, you might not be aware that your voting record is also of public record and while I wouldn’t necessarily know how you voted, I would know your age, gender, address, party affiliation and how often you chose to exercise your right to vote. Yep. All public record and used by every candidate….or, at least the savvy ones.
But, I digress. Back to the fun stuff…
Once you have a list of all the good Republican primary voters you would target, you ( well your campaign consultant and or pollster) would craft some very strategic questions to ask them. These questions might go a little something like this:
Do you think things in Oklahoma are going in the right direction/wrong direction?
What issues are most important to you? a) education b) jobs c) taxes d) abortion e) other (Remember, this is for a Republican primary. The questions would be very different for a Democratic primary or a general election.)
If other, please indicate that issue now.
In a Republican primary, do you tend to vote for the more conservative candidate or the more moderate candidate?
How likely is it that you will be voting in the primary election on August 26th? Very likely? Most Likey? Somewhat Likely? or I never miss a primary election?
And, for those of you who state you never miss an election? Don’t worry, the pollster knows whether you are telling the truth or not! They have that data too.
You get the idea.
You might also throw in a few other hot topic issues just to see how strongly people in your district feel about them. This year in Oklahoma, those two issues were the repeal of Common Core (federal education standards) and fighting federal overreach… Safe to assume there’s not a lot of love for the federal government out here.
If you were really on top of your game, you might ask about a potential negative you have that could hurt your candidacy or even a question about your opponent(s) potential negatives. This is the evil part about campaigns but it really helps to know what can and will be used against you and more importantly, how well it resonates with the voters….or, not.
Then, as a candidate, you would take that information and craft a message geared toward these “high turnout” primary voters who will certainly show up to cast their vote for you ( with the help of your effective Get Out The Vote plan). Because, at the end of the day folks, that is what wins elections.
Some polls, like the example I used, are actually legitimate fact finding instruments and can be invaluable for a political candidate in crafting an effective message. Other types of polls, often referred to as ‘Push Polls’ are intended to sway the electorate or hurt a candidate. More on those later.
However, what the pollsters don’t tell you is how they can manipulate the message by the questions they ask, or the data they choose to release. They also don’t tell you that a poll is typically based on a sample of 300 – 500 voters. Shocking to think that only 300-500 people are determining what the election themes will be or which candidate is in “the lead.”
Also top secret – if you’ve ever been polled, your answers usually come back to find you during the course of a campaign. But, I’m gonna leave you hanging on how that happens! Hint- this photo was taken in 2002 of my Senator calling some Republican voters who polled that they were “likely” to vote for him in the primary.
Just thought I would share a little bit of my experience with political polls during this election cycle which is clearly in full swing!