Pre-filing polling may be seen as a luxury most campaigns cannot afford. However, my experience illustrates that the benefits to polling early far outweigh the cost.
I am not a frustrated campaign consultant moonlighting as a pollster. I only do research. But I have never assumed the role of “just another pollster.” I regularly participate as a member of the strategy teams of winning campaigns. This has allowed me to develop a unique perspective on ballot contests.
Few states allow the use of ballot designations for candidates. Yet in California, it is often the single most important impression candidates will make on voters. In some cases it is the only impression candidates make on voters. A ballot designation is an amazing tool for earning votes and one that is often wasted on too-simple occupations like “Businessman” or haphazard concoctions such as “Policeman/Coach/Parent”. Elected officials often fail to capitalize on provisions in the Elections Code that allow (for example) “City of Bakersfield Councilman/Teacher” to count as just three words. Think about how 99 out 100 times the “Deputy District Attorney” will win when running against the “attorney” for Superior Court Judge.
My firm has done extensive polling on ballot designation choice. We know what to test and how to test it. If a campaign does nothing else, it should consider mission critical polling to test which ballot designation will be most attractive to voters. We apply several techniques, including split sample tests, that allow us to hone in on the best ballot designation – giving your clients a great head start and the best last word at the ballot box.
Ballot statement and endorsement usage
Consultants always wrestle with their clients over how best to use the precious few words of a ballot statement. Once you are able to eliminate superfluous endorsements from vector control board members, the name of the candidate’s Alma Mater in Oklahoma or their volunteer position with the Friends of the Library, you are left to guess what information is smart to include.
You assume the sheriff has great name ID and that the posthumous endorsement from former Governor Hiram Johnson will be a hit with voters. You are convinced that jobs should be mentioned every other word. But how can you know for sure, in each district, in each community, what will resonate best? Only through quality polling can you identify and promote the politics and policies that will ring true with the largest possible group of voters. After conducting hundreds of polls for ballot measures and candidates I am often confident of the likeliness of what is top of mind to voters…but I am also often surprised – as are my clients. Every region’s electorate is different – and it is foolhardy to move forward with core messages without testing to determine how effective they are, and who they are effective with.
Website and social media message guidance
Text matters. Ideally, you poll to guide the targeting and messaging for direct mail, television and radio. The same rule should apply for online and social media content. But since the digital campaign starts long before you cut your first commercial or design your first mail piece, pre-filing polling is critical to knowing who (the demographic of voters) will see your clients’ digital presence. And, what they want to hear.
Stump speech talking points and the media
Once every few cycles, you may land a candidate (or lead advocate for a ballot measure) who is a natural public speaker; someone who instantly connects with the crowd, large or small. For everyone else, writing talking points and keeping them on script can be a challenge. I would never suggest that a candidate read our polling analysis and adopt all the messages that resonate with the voters. Especially if some of those messages are contrary to their core beliefs.
But incorporating words and themes that we know poll well is what good stump speeches and talking points are made of. And, when the media calls on the eve of filing or after the campaign releases a press release, having the right words to say – words that are pre-tested among the electorate – will have far greater, positive impact.
I am never an advocate for releasing internal polling results and of course we keep all research results in the strictest of confidence. But, if a consultant spots a strategic advantage or the candidate/ballot measure committee feels the need to brag, we acquiesce.
Positive poll results can provide courage to donors who would otherwise stay on the sidelines. Developing and releasing a sanitized results memo or presentation can be highly effective. This can be done at any point in the campaign. But pre-filing polling that shows a candidate or ballot measure in the lead or in a strong position for a win can help shake loose those coveted early funds.
I am a pollster, so clearly I want you to poll early and often. But I also want you to get a great value for your political research dollars. Polling after filing has closed and conducting regular tracking polls is of course mission-critical too. There is no substitute for testing the actual contest: ballot label for initiatives, candidate names with exact ballot designations, party preference if applicable and ballot order and candidate attributes
About Probolsky Research
We work for candidates, corporate and special interest clients that span the political spectrum. We prioritize in-person meetings and never charge for travel related expenses. Client confidentiality is sacrosanct. Our polls are conducted using our highly trained U.S.-based profession interviewers. We never use automated or robo polling techniques. We are one of the only pollsters with extensive multilingual experience and we always call mobile phones and land-lines. We are expert election turnout modelers. Our proven approach and accuracy ensures campaigns spend hard-won dollars successfully.