Hiring a Pollster
Want to know what should you look for in a pollster? A good pollster is knowledgeable, accurate, a clear communicator, adaptable, and concise.
You’re going to want a pollster who really knows their stuff. Your pollster should know the ins and outs of each different kind of poll, how to find the sample size and how large that sample size ought to be, and how to find the data they’re looking for. It usually takes more than a college degree in order to be a good pollster. There are professional organizations, such as APPOR and NCPP, that have pollsters as members and require each member to uphold a certain code of conduct. Checking these may help you weed out imposters.
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There are many pollsters out there, but they’re not created equal. You’ll want a pollster who can take the most accurate polls so that, when they study the results and determine your campaign strategy, they won’t miss the mark entirely. Some organizations even rate pollsters based on their accuracy, like FiveThirtyEight.
A Clear Communicator
As in all other aspects of life, communication is key in finding a good pollster. Since they determine how to word the survey, they will need the ability to pose clear-cut questions that potential voters can easily answer. If the voters stumble at any point with the questions, that can skew the results. Before sending out a survey, the pollster should also ensure there are no errors (typos, inaccuracies, etc). You’ll also need to ensure that they communicate clearly with you (and vice versa). You need to be on the same page regarding what data you’re seeking to collect.
In the days before cell phones became prominent, all polling was conducted over telephone landlines. Not so today. In fact, a May 2020 survey showed that only 40% of Americans have a landline, and about 50% of them utilize only wireless service. This means that pollsters have had to adapt in order to get a representative sample size. Good, modern pollsters utilize all kinds of survey tools, not just IVR (Interactive voice response - the ones typically used for landline polling). Instead, they rely on hybrid polls that combine cell phone, landline, and online sources to reach their respondents.
The attention span of human beings has steadily declined over the years. In fact, a study by Microsoft concluded that it’s dropped to 8 seconds - squirrel! (Just checking to see if you’re still paying attention.) What this means for pollsters is that the same long-form surveys won’t cut it anymore. It’s better to ask a large group of people a few quick, to-the-point questions than having a small group answer several questions. Shorter survey length also means a higher likelihood of completion by respondents.
Polls are a vital part of campaigning. Without knowing what the public thinks, it’s impossible to formulate messaging that will carry the candidate through to victory. In order to experience that win, a candidate needs a fantastic team by their side. Pollsters are an essential part of that team, so ensure that you find someone who is knowledgeable, accurate, and a clear communicator. You will need your pollster to be adaptable and concise as well, to ensure that they can read the social landscape and make the necessary changes to your campaign.