The Edge: Competitive Edge Blog

Data vs. Winning Insight

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Political candidates and campaigns who hire pollsters all want the same thing: expert guidance in making critically important decisions that will help them win.

Unfortunately, it seems more and more clients are dissatisfied by what they receive from their polling firm. Most of the time their disappointment stems from the fact they’re just getting data instead of substantive information on how to win. They made the mistake of hiring a data compiler instead of a thoughtful consultant who uses data to inform an analysis of the situation and then provide good evidence-based advice.

The data compilers do two things that show their ignorance of what polling should accomplish.

First, they do not spend enough time analyzing the data. There are stories about large polling firms “presenting” polling data to the client the morning after the data was collected. While that might sound like great customer service in this fast-paced world, there isn’t a pollster alive brilliant enough to thoughtfully digest that information, truly understand it and then communicate it in a meaningful way to the client that quickly.

Second, even when some time is taken to put together a presentation, data compilers offer no real analysis. Oh sure, there are a lot of tables and charts, and maybe even some custom graphics, but these are no substitute for real, solid analysis.

The charts and any information passed along are not subjected to statistical tests using multivariate analysis. More likely, the charts are used to project the bias inherent in the polling firm’s desired reading of the results. So the consumer ends up hearing the pollster’s opinions, instead of hearing what the data is actually saying. That can lead to critical strategic and tactical errors.

One of the most important things a political campaign can do is hire a top quality pollster. One of the most damaging things a campaign can do is hire a data compiler who masquerades as a pollster. Anyone can hand over crosstabs, but the successful pollster needs to have the insight that comes from sound and thorough analysis

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