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.
Victoria Research & Consulting