Incorporating Online Opinion Surveys

Incorporating Online Opinion Surveys
& Polling Into Campaign Mix
by Nancy Guthrie, Capitol City Communications

Email addresses are almost as prevalent these days as residential addresses. But so far in political and issue campaigns, online email surveys and polling are largely untapped. Measuring the court of public opinion through online email surveys and polls is affordable, fast, easy and effective. It is an immediate way to take the pulse of the public and gather intelligence that can be used to develop a winning campaign strategy.

Campaigns can use online surveys and polling to build relationships with voters, which can instantly translate into useful campaign tactics. One of the classic case studies of campaigns ignoring public opinion occurred in West Virginia's third Congressional District during the mid-term elections last year. Had the use of email surveys and polling been considered at the outset both candidates would have clearly understood that voters disapproved of their combined campaign strategies - which amounted to over saturating the district with traditional campaign methods.

This disregard resulted in voters being assaulted daily by phone banks that included a combination of pre-recorded get out the vote messages, push polls, telephone endorsements by various groups and organizations, direct mail, radio ads and an obscene and relentless schedule of television advertisements. Armed with immediate intelligence discovered through use of email surveys and polls both candidates might have been persuaded to modify their campaign approach with techniques registering voter approval.

The great thing about email surveys and polls is that over 20 questions can be sent to a targeted group of registered voters via email distribution lists. Generally, questions are phrased in such a way that respondents can tell that their answers will be factored into any campaign strategy. Respondents who answer by deadline can be entered into any drawing that has value to the registered voter.

A Web-based version of the survey or poll is created and distribution is managed. Within the email survey or poll, a link is offered to a Web-based version. Through this alternative method, respondents with the ability to only read text messages are able to fill out the survey or poll via their browser.

Unlike typical response rates of 10-15 percent, email surveys and polls are experiencing response rates between 40-50 percent. The email results are collected over one week compared to the month or longer it takes to collect mail surveys. And case studies suggest that the majority of email surveys and polls are completed and returned within the first 72 hours. Results can be viewed in real time via an online tracking report, and a summary analysis of survey results can be turned over within a day.

Total cost for email based surveys and polls is generally around $1,800, including $1,200 for the survey and poll design and $550 a month for a three-month subscription to email marketing services. Executing a survey through traditional mail generally costs between $3,000-$5,000, and that doesn't take into consideration usually low response rates for paper surveys. When you apply a cost-per response metric, the email based surveys and poll responses cost about $5 each, while traditional mail responses (assuming a 10 percent response rate) cost about $40-$50 per response if you use a population of 800-plus people as your email base.

As this generation of voters comes into its own, campaigns need to think of the next best ways to take pulse of the public. Online email surveys and polls may very well be one of the next best things to hit at the heart of the American people in upcoming campaigns.