Why No Polling is Better than Bad Polling

I’m just a few weeks away from my 30th anniversary as a political pollster; selling polls to political candidates is my primary business. So I’m going to tell you not to do it. This is not new for me; I am often in the position of chatting for 15 minutes with a prospect and then explaining that their campaign can’t afford to poll — but with so many DIY and low cost options these days, surely something imperfect is better than nothing, right? WRONG. Here’s why I think you should resist the temptation:

— You will be told again and again this simple truth: the two most important resources for any campaign are (a) the Candidate’s time and (b) money. Even if it is $1,000, you are going to spend money on it, and Candidate time either working on it or raising the money to cover it. How long did it take you to raise $1,000? If our budget is less than $50,000 overall, it probably took a long time. Use it to communicate with every voter you can.

— You will likely get little more than the horse race out of a cheap poll. PPP is a leading vendor of robo-polls, and they certainly have their place in politics, but you get 5–10 questions max, and 2 of those are age and gender. Not a lot of time left for messaging once you’ve gotten name ID and trial heat out of the way. It’s the American Way — we like competition, candidates are competitive, we want to know who’s winning. It is also the least useful to you as a tidbit of information — so now you know that you are 5 points up, or 5 points down. How does that factoid impact what you are doing on the campaign? You still have to implement your strategy, and now you have to do it with $3,000 less.

— Bad Numbers equal Bad Decisions. This is probably most important: no matter how many times you say to yourself “this wasn’t really scientific” or “it’s just a straw poll” numbers stay in everyone’s mind, and you work with those in your head. I have been on countless campaigns with highly paid professionals where they ease up because some sloppy poll shows them way ahead, or (equally bad, in my opinion) resources get wasted, pouring into a race over a sloppy poll that shows it shockingly close. Everyone mans the very pricey barricades for a siege that never materializes. If this happens on campaigns that pay me to poke flaws in these sloppy polls, it can happen to you.

A poll, any poll, is not necessarily a sign of a professional campaign. You got into this race (I hope) to defend your beliefs and fight for your causes. Polling is a tool, but it is not right or affordable for every campaign.

Stealing a page from Dr. Spock, trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.

Donna Victoria
Victoria Research & Consulting
m 240–893–5487


Under New Leadership, Campaign Greenhouse Zooms In On 2019

Washington, D.C. — Campaign support company Campaign Greenhouse has tapped Sally Boynton Brown as its new CEO, reflecting a laser focus on 2019 elections.

“Sally knows better than anyone why every election, every district, and every candidate matters,” said Campaign Greenhouse founder Kathryn Poindexter. “There are thousands of candidates who need our help right now, and Sally will make sure we’re ready to serve them all. Her expertise and national relationships mean she’s uniquely qualified to take us to scale, and her passion for smart, simple innovation makes her a great fit with our model.”

Designed especially for campaigns that are down-ballot, low-budget, early-phase or have a low chance of winning, Campaign Greenhouse provides coaching in campaign strategy, tactics and tools for progressive candidates and their supporters. Resources available through the service include a national network of campaign experts, coaches rooted in community organizing and local campaign strategy, an extensive library of campaign how-to materials and customizable templates, along with cutting-edge research, data and tactical tools.

“I’m thrilled to be working with Campaign Greenhouse,” said Boynton Brown, “Making it easier, cheaper and more sustainable to run for office is how we save our democracy. While the rest of the political world seems to be focused on the 2020 Presidential election, we are focused on electing thousands of progressives around the country to school boards and city councils right now, in 2019. I am thrilled to be a part of this revolutionary candidate support model.”

Boynton Brown was Executive Director of the Idaho Democratic Party from 2012 through 2016, ran for chair of the Democratic National Committee and was President of the Florida Democratic Party in 2017. She has three adult children and lives in Boise, ID with her husband.

Focus on the Fundamentals

This may seem overly simplistic, but the person who wins an election is the person who gets the most votes. So, the focus of any campaign should be garnering as many votes as possible. Except for biennial November General Elections essentially every election is a low turnout affair. Many of these low turnout elections have fewer than 10% of the people in your district voting.

Since roughly 90% of the people in your district aren’t going to cast a ballot doing a lot of general outreach to the community at large makes little sense. Smart campaigns identify the subset of voters who are likely to vote, and then focus their entire campaigns on only those voters (except for family and close friends who you know you can harass into voting for you when they don’t normally vote). Everyone who is unlikely to vote, which is most people, should be dead to your campaign.

If you don’t have a data scientist at your disposal then voting history is generally the best way to determine your likely voter universe. People who have a robust history of voting in elections with similar, or lower, turnout than the election in which your campaign will be on the ballot are going to be your likely voters. The size of the universe should be slightly larger than what you expect turnout to be. Use historical turnout as a guide if you don’t have a better option.

In these low turnout elections the candidate(s) with the higher name ID among those voters casting ballots wins much more often than not. That makes logical sense too. When going into a voting booth if one name resonates with us much more than the others we tend to vote for the name we know best. This is especially true when a voter is personally contacted by a campaign, and campaign contacts are best done by the candidate themselves.

Active voter outreach, like canvassing and phone banking, are more effective than passive communication (like mailers and social media). Having money for a robust mail plan can be a quick way to increase your name ID, but campaigns without the funds for such things can be successful. It will just take (literal) sweat equity by lower funded campaigns as they will need to make up for a lack of funds by outhustling their opponents at the doors and on the phones.

There are no shortcuts to winning campaigns. Quick, cheap, and easy ways for you to win your campaign don’t exist. If your campaign isn’t the hardest thing you have ever done in your life then you likely aren’t doing it right. Hard working campaigns with strong fundamentals beat better funded, but lazy, campaigns all the time. Doing the work of running a proper campaign of methodically reaching out to likely voters may be the hard path, but it is the right path.