Business, Community & Government

Polling and Focus Groups

David Axelrod and Karl Rove

Lesson time 20:03 min

David and Karl trade off teaching the importance of polling and focus groups, while also highlighting the limitations of these types of research.

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Topics include: The Importance of the Baseline/Benchmark Poll • The Problem With Polls • Gain Deeper Insights With Focus Groups • The Challenge of Focus Groups


There are several different kinds of polls. There's what we call a baseline poll. It's generally a pretty long instrument done at the beginning of a campaign to get a baseline of where things are. During the campaign, you may update that. We call the updates brushfires, where you go in and do a shorter instrument. What are your favorable and unfavorables? And what's the ballot question? But may also include new questions that have emerged about an issue of the moment. But they're typically smaller in size than the baseline poll, but they have a number of questions on them. Then we have tracking, which is generally done at the end of the primary or the end of the general election. It has a smaller number of questions. The samples tend to be a little bit smaller. They're spread over several days. So that you might ask, say, 150 people a night, and you have a rolling average where you take, say, three nights of those people, and then you do a fourth night and drop off the first night. But what you're looking for there is movement. What's the ballot looking like? What's the information flow like? Are they hearing more about you? Are they feeling better about you? Are they feeling better about voting for you? And what are some of the issues that are popping up here at the end? But relatively short and fielded during a relatively short period of time. These are all things that we call quantitative polls. They involve numbers. We're asking a random sample of people, adjusted so it matches the demography of the district and the demography of the likely turnout, and we're trying to get a sense-- numbers and so forth-- of how people feel about you and your candidate and your issues. We also have what are called qualitative instruments and of principle one of these is a focus group. This is where you get a group of people-- very hard to do, so you generally have to use somebody who is an expert in this who has this as their career or their company's focus-- you get a group of people who represent some common view, like undecided voters in a particular area or soft Republicans or soft Democrats who like the candidate of the opposition party. But you get a relatively what you think are one of the key outgroups that you've got to understand better and deeper than the rest of the electorate in order to figure out how to them. And you get them in a room, and using a professional moderator, you walk them through a discussion about the campaign and the candidates and maybe even the advertising. [LIGHT MUSIC] - One of the mistakes that people sometimes make in campaigns is to assume that what worked in some other race or at some other time will work now. And so research becomes very important, and by research here, I mean opinion research-- polling; if you can afford them, focus groups-- to really test the array of messages and get a clear sense of where you're starting. You want to benchmark poll. Even if you're running a small campaign...

About the Instructor

David Axelrod and Karl Rove reach across the aisle to offer an inside look at winning campaign strategies. The respective architects of Barack Obama’s and George W. Bush’s historic election victories teach how to develop a campaign platform and reach an audience with consistent messaging. Find the inspiration and tools to get involved at any level, or simply become a more informed, engaged citizen.

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David Axelrod and Karl Rove

Renowned presidential campaign strategists David Axelrod and Karl Rove reveal what goes into effective political strategy and messaging.

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