This year’s U.S. Presidential campaign has been one of the most unorthodox in decades.
As a result, mid-year polling for the 2016 election has revealed an unusual amount of undecided voters. In fact, there were twice as many undecided voters in June 2016 than there were in November 2015.
This uncertainty is dangerous for pollsters, as what initially appears a close race within a specific state may become a landslide victory to either side once the undecided or, more accurately, “undeclared” voters finally make a selection.
And that means that in this election, more than any in recent decades, pollsters are going to need their most accurate methods of questioning to find out just what is going on inside the minds of the voters.
A return to wholesale face-to-face interviewing could prove a valued tool, meaning we may see the spread of polling using teleconferencing.
Tell Me to My Face
Face-to-face polling is the gold standard of survey methods.
The British Election Study found the method was far more accurate in predicting the result of the most recent UK election than internet and phone polling, and would have better alerted the media and politicians alike to what turned out to be a landslide 2015 victory for David Cameron’s Conservative Party.
The face-to-face interview allows pollsters to collect more in-depth information, speak to interviewees for longer, respond to and build on answers, and pick up on body language and facial expressions lost in telephone and internet surveys.
All those benefits are transferred to the teleconferencing platform, and what is more, video polling helps alleviate the biggest disadvantage of in-person interviewing–cost. It simply costs money to send qualified researchers into the field to speak directly with the right kind of voter. And that’s because those voters are located all over the country. As a result, pollsters generally use high-volume call centers to randomly contact phone numbers in the desired area.
However, those same telephone surveyors could be put to use in a video conferencing format that restores the gold standard of face-to-face surveying.
Now Switching to Video Mode
The easiest way to make the move to more reliable face-to-face interviewing is to retain current telephone survey practices and simply add the option of switching to a video chat.
Outfitting a call center team to accommodate more accurate personal interviews is easy. There are dozens of cheap headset options that accommodate the switch from pure audio to visual communication. And there is also an ever greater variety of cameras able to produce high-quality images that let the human face work its calming magic on would-be respondents.
Of course, at the voter end there is the landline problem. Anyone contacted this way will need to switch to a computer or laptop with video capabilities, and that may result in having to schedule a call back.
However, as the Pew Research Center has found in the course of its election polling, almost 50% of Americans today don’t use landlines and are contactable only through a cell phone. And, as it’s taken roughly a decade for that number to rise from the 5% cell phone only mark, it’s safe to assume even more people will be ditching their landline connections in the future.
This is great news for video polling, as modern iOS and Android phones are essentially portable video conferencing tools. There are dozens of video conferencing apps available for smartphones that would let the old-fashioned telephone pollster instantly upgrade to the 21st century and conduct their interview face-to-face.
The Video Bus Stop
The second way to reach those mysterious undecideds is to talk to them where they work, shop, and play. Again, it’s expensive to send your polling team out to a different mall across America each day, but what if they already had a permanent place where people gather?
Polling groups could establish permanent video conferencing-enabled booths and banner advertisements wherever their target audience gathers. It’s simply a matter of embedding a decent webcam and microphone setup above a touch screen, and then grabbing the attention of passers-by.
Install a two-way screen in a bus stop and you could directly chat with the people of that neighborhood’s demographic. Place one near the entrance to a cinema and speak with people drawn to a certain kind of genre. Put a booth where a public phone booth once stood on a busy corner of any city’s business district, and take the pulse of the professional community.
Once the conversation begins, pollsters could use basic screen sharing technology to add visual elements to their questioning, enabling a greater variety of questions. Perhaps they could measure the public recall of political advertising, match candidates faces with their messages, or other means of measuring the memorability of campaign imagery on voters.
At any rate, adopting video conferencing into political polling lets pollsters literally improve their view of the undecided electorate, and opens up a whole range of potential tools for learning more about how voters make their decisions.