Why You Need a Partisan Pollster
In an op-ed column two days ago, Stuart Rothenberg, a prominent political (and non-partisan) commentator argued that partisan pollsters (those who work directly for either Democratic or Republican candidates) do a better job than presumably objective third party pollsters. Why? Because they have to get it right. Their campaign strategies depend on it. Quoting Mr. Rothenberg:
“Nonpartisan pollsters simply have less at stake in getting the right numbers in their polls. Sure, there is personal pride involved, but usually those pollsters are conducting surveys for local media outlets that simply want numbers to put in their newspapers or on local TV news. Often, these nonpartisan pollsters were established to promote an educational institution’s visibility. Campaign pollsters have much more at stake. Their numbers drive campaign strategy, with victory or defeat of their candidate hanging in the balance. Their numbers have to be correct.”
One irony is that media outlets often pride themselves on their rigorous rules for reporting surveys, with outcomes that are quite the opposite. Sometimes they reject important stories that rely on research using online methods, for example, despite evidence that online surveys can produce better data. And all too often they publish silly surveys, as if merely adhering to so-called rigorous protocols guarantees good research. “Some observers assume the worst [methodological] offenders are campaign pollsters, who presumably cook their numbers to show whatever they want to show. Not true,” says Rothenberg, who cites a number of recent studies suggesting less-than-rigorous work from the likes of Gallup and USA Today, especially when compared to what several partisan pollsters are reporting.
Partisan pollsters, Rothenberg suggests, will do whatever is required to ensure that their numbers reflect exactly what they are trying to measure. “Survey research depends on the dedication of the pollster to get it right.”
We agree, and Rothenberg’s argument aligns with our approach to working with clients no matter what the nature of our research. In other words, we take a decidedly partisan approach, which has nothing to do with politics or being Democrats or Republicans. It has to do with thinking about and executing our work as advocates for your interests who are investing in your success. Yes, research needs all the objectivity and methodological rigor we can bring to it. But it also needs our “partisan” dedication to getting it right, because the success or failure of your strategies depend on it.
—Joe Hopper, Ph.D.