Are You Missing “Everyone Else?”
Why we Poll in Foreign Languages
Communicating with voters in the language they speak at home is part of any successful campaign. But does your pollster understand this reality?
If your campaign isn’t engaged in multi-lingual research, you are likely missing important targeting opportunities and perhaps even looking at bad polling numbers.
Conducting research in the language most comfortable to respondents is a critical component to ensuring the greatest participation rate, the lowest possible bias and overall accuracy of results. While a relatively small number of voters actually request a foreign language ballot, many voters feel more comfortable speaking their native language. These voters should not be overlooked in communities with significant proportions of foreign-born ethnic voters.
Adding languages to a poll isn’t simple. Quality translation services can take days. The work that goes into launching a poll – such as pre-testing the questionnaire – must be done for each new language. Ensuring that your interviewers are “accent neutral” so that regional dialects don’t put off potential respondents takes time and money.
Some pollsters simply don’t offer multiple languages, and many will recommend against it because it creates more work and higher costs for them.
Does it cost more to poll in foreign languages?
Yes. But Spanish language translation and interviewing should be ubiquitous. Expect to pay a premium of 10 to 15% for each additional Asian language.
Should a pollster initiate interviewing calls in foreign languages?
No. Most voters prefer to speak in English, even those for whom English is their second language. Just as you would never send a piece of Spanish-language campaign mail to every Hernandez, Garcia and Ramirez, we never assume every household with a Hispanic surname prefers to speak Spanish. If we identify a voter who has difficulty completing our survey in English or makes it otherwise clear (sometimes by simply hanging up on our interviewer) that English is not an option for them, we will call back with a bi-lingual interviewer capable of communicating with that voter.
Is there a rule for when a foreign language should be added to the mix?
No. But if your turnout model includes more than 5% of any given ethnic population who are also foreign-born, you should have a conversation with your pollster and campaign team on the ground. For example, there are some parts of San Jose that require polling in Vietnamese to deliver accurate results, but other areas do not.