Trump vs Clinton Polling Is Giving Online Research A Black Eye

By TKW Research Group | 11 October 2016

Online surveys have been under fire lately, and now here’s more bad news: they’ve been roped into the mudslinging of the presidential campaign, which can only lead to more mud being splattered indiscriminately on their reputation.

A recent article in the New York Times details how data from respondents who answer invitations to take polls posted on news organisations’ websites is more or less worthless. Why? Because these survey-takers simply aren’t representative of the voting public.

Okay, so we know that online market research is far closer to reality than the stunt-like ad-hoc polls that the Times wrote about, but it’s slowly starting to dawn on many market researchers and clients that the data that online research surveys produces may not be all that reliable.

It’s rare that an online research supplier will publish its panel’s makeup, demographics and characteristics in detail – but researchers deserve to know who is going to answer their questions, and anything less than full and open disclosure just breeds doubt and distrust that’s unhealthy for any industry.

There is a rising level of discontent among many end-users of market research, as the realisation is setting in that the online surveys they’re buying are no longer delivering the reliability or efficiency that they need.

A panel in the United States does list detailed panel data, but the facts only serve to add hard evidence to this growing discontent.

This particular supplier states that it has over 1 million panellists in the United States, and that 71% of them are women – which seems even to the most casual observer to be out of whack with both human biology and the reality of the market place. It also omits Hispanics/Latinos from its ethnic makeup – again out of sync with the realities of the population.

Finally it acknowledges only 20% of respondents complete surveys using a mobile device, again way out of whack with current trends that place mobile devices as the key means of communication and information exchange in modern society. Market research simply can’t claim to be meeting it’s raison d’etre of keeping a finger on the public pulse if It is communicating with respondents in ways the majority of the public now consider to be archaic.

Don’t get us wrong though, unlike instant online presidential polls that I’m sure we’re going to see many many more of between now and election day, online market research has integrity and does all it can to serve clients honourably and effectively. Its methods were verifiably effective for many years, but mobile technology is changing the world, and online’s day has now passed. Soon it will be like the phone booth or the electric typewriter – once a necessity but now fallen into near-total disuse because technology transformed how the public communicates and transmits information.

“Follow the money” was the signature line from “All the President’s Men,” a classic film about the earthshaking political fallout from the 1972 presidential election. In market research, it is imperative to “follow the consumers”. The consumers are not online, they are on mobile – in all their glorious, fully-representative diversity.

Research needs to be there too.


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