Survey Says … Trump Won? Research Lessons from the Polling Mess.
I have been surprised by the number of people—including friends and even veteran researchers within the market research industry—who believe that the outcome of the 2016 presidential election proved once and for all that surveys and polling do not work.
Why am I surprised? Because it is simply not true.
In the Versta Research Winter 2017 Newsletter we lay out the evidence. It’s not complicated, and I’m pretty sure you will agree.
But we also offer up some important “lessons learned” about market research methods. Because plenty did go wrong, and too many research and polling pundits did, in fact, lead us astray.
So here, in brief, are the five lessons we review in our Newsletter:
- Surveys work. On average, the top ten polls had Clinton winning the popular vote by 3 percentage points. She won by 2 percentage points. Both online and phone polls were amazingly accurate.
- Weight your data. But not all votes count equally. Really smart research might have weighted to the population of decision-makers (the Electoral College) not to the population of likely voters.
- Beware the math-meisters. Building off the success of “predicting” Obama’s victory four years ago, fancy mathematical modelers presumed to quantify the certainty of Clinton’s victory in truly ridiculous ways.
- Qualitative is critical. There was (and still is) a missing piece to all the polling and research on voters in this election cycle: A deep sense of who, why, and how, which quantitative research can rarely provide.
- Do it only if it matters. Did all the polls leading up to the election provide any real value? Could we do anything with the results? It’s a reminder to do market research only if you can specify how it will be used.
The most important lesson for market research from this year’s election is that our basic methods of inquiry are fundamentally sound. But for sure, we need to be vigilant about who we are measuring and how. We need to triangulate with non-mathematical approaches that help explain the numbers. And we need to think more deeply about what we are doing and why.
However you may feel about this year’s confusion of presidential polling and predictions, we hope you find the article useful, and that it stimulates some deep thought about the implications of this election for your own research. Need help putting all that thought into action? Versta Research is here for you.