To Poll or Not to Poll
Due To The Prominence Of Polls, Clients Often Come To Meeting Street Insights Assuming They Are The Best And Easiest Method For Getting The Information They Need. Often This Is True. Sometimes It’s Not.
When we at Meeting Street tell new acquaintances what we do for a living, most people hear “market research” and think “polling!” But market research is a broad term that encompasses an array of methods used to collect, aggregate, and analyze public opinion. These methods range from surveys and focus groups to one-on-one in-depth interviews and program testing. As varying as these methods are, there’s one that seems to garner the most attention: the poll.
A poll involves canvassing a representative sample of people to gather information for analysis. Polls are often used to identify trends, forecast outcomes, and gauge public sentiment around specific topics. They’re particularly popular with the media, which also makes them more visible, and consequently more prominent, than other types of market research.
Do you have a poll-worthy issue?
Due to the prominence of polls, clients often come to Meeting Street Insights assuming they are the best and easiest method for getting the information they need. Often this is true. Sometimes it’s not. To determine whether or not a poll is the best research method to use, consider the following questions.
Do you want information about what people believe or about why they believe what they do?
The type of information you seek can be objective and conclusive, like what percentage of neighborhood residents support new landscaping in the common area, or subjective and ambiguous, like why those same residents feel the way they do. So take a moment to think about your issue. What kind of insights are you hoping to gain? If your answer is statistics — percentages, numbers, metrics, etc. — then a poll is a great idea. But if it’s a deeper dive into their motivations that you seek — feelings, thoughts, or beliefs about a particular subject — then you’ll want to employ qualitative research tools, like focus groups or in-depth interviews.
What, exactly, is your research question?
You’ll be surprised how often clients aren’t clear about the question or questions they want answered. You can’t do a poll without a well-defined research question that sets the goals for the project and answers the question “What do you want to learn?”. From the initial research question, which is often broad in scope, we design the questionnaire, always keeping the big research question front of mind. If you’re not sure what questions you want to answer, that’s a good sign that you need to do more upfront exploration of your topic to define the information you seek (we can help with that, too!). Then we can figure out if a poll or a different methodology is the best way to answer those questions.
How’s your timing?
It’s a cliché in the polling industry that a poll is a snapshot of a moment in time. This is especially important to keep in mind if your poll is focused on a shifting landscape. Election polls are a great example of this. If the political environment is changing a lot, a campaign might need to wait until the dust settles to get an accurate read on a situation. For example, if a political upstart is challenging a well-known incumbent, the polling will likely look different before the upstart has a chance to introduce himself to the voters than it will right before the election when voters have had a chance to learn about all the candidates on the ballot.
Do you have enough people to poll?
This question is fairly straightforward. If you don’t have enough people to poll, your results will hold no value. This is particularly true if you’re trying to gauge a statistical trend across a large population. Say, for example, you want to know what percentage of people prefer your brand of ice cream over another. You can’t gain valuable data by polling 23 people at the supermarket a few streets over. To get more accurate information, you have to broaden and diversify your scope, both geographically and demographically. This is simple to do if you want national or state-wide results, but polling for local or even some state legislative elections often struggles with getting a large enough sample.
Is this a multiple choice question?
If, after considering the previous factors, you’re still not certain whether you have a poll-worthy issue, here’s a final litmus test: If your question can’t be answered via “multiple choice,” you can’t do a poll. Said another way: there are more effective ways than polling to get qualitative data. So, if your audience can’t respond to your question by selecting “yes or no,” “true or false,” “approve or disapprove,” or “a, b, or c,” a poll is not the correct research strategy.
Have you consulted with a market research specialist?
One of the best ways to determine the “poll-worthiness” of your issue is to speak with someone who specializes in market research. Not only can this answer your “to poll or not to poll” question, but consulting with an expert can also save you valuable time and money. In addition to helping you determine the most effective and efficient research methods, a market research professional can help you define and refine the focus of your research. It’s not uncommon for a client to believe they should be asking one question when, in reality, they should be asking another.
Whatever your market research needs, Meeting Street Insights can help. We have extensive experience helping clients across a variety of industries create custom market research plans. Get in touch or subscribe to our newsletter.