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Bias in Primary Elections and its Applicability in New Product Research

election bias new product research

By Westley Ritz

So I certainly do not follow politics closely, even during a presidential election year, which I guess could also be read as I don’t know very much about politics. But that small disclaimer aside, watching the news coverage of the recently passed Iowa Caucuses and upcoming New Hampshire primary, something struck me as peculiar in this process. These events happen in succession, not simultaneously. So first is the Iowa Caucus, then the New Hampshire primary, followed by the Nevada and South Carolina primaries, and so on with the other states.  And after each event is held the results are (almost) immediately known. So the folks in New Hampshire know the outcome from Iowa. The folks in Nevada and South Carolina know the outcomes from Iowa and New Hampshire.

Doesn’t this lead to inherent and obvious bias? That’s the market researcher side talking. In implementing questionnaires we wouldn’t typically make known the results from previous respondents to those taking the survey later. This would surely have some influence on their answers that we wouldn’t want. We need a clean, pure read (as best as we can with surveys) as to consumer opinions and attitudes. Any deviation from this would surely compromise our data.

But then again, is this always the case? Could there be situations in which some purposely predisposed informational bias is beneficial? I say yes! Granted one needs to be cautious and thoughtful when exposing respondents to prior information, but sometimes in order to get the specific type of response we want, a little bias is helpful. If asking about a particular product or product function, we may provide an example or guide so they can fully understand the product. E.g. 10 GB of storage is good for X number of movies and X number of songs.

But circling back to the notion of letting respondents see the answers from previous respondents, even within the same survey, this could be quite helpful in priming folks to start thinking creatively. If we wish to gather creative ideas from consumers, it’s easy enough to ask them outright to jot something down. But it’s difficult to come up with new and creative ideas on the fly without much help. And responses we get from such tasks validate that point as many are nonsense, or short dull answers. So instead, we could show a respondent several ideas that have come up previously, either internally or from previous respondents, to jumpstart the thinking process and either edit/add onto an existing idea, or be stimulated enough to come up with their own unique idea. And truth is, it works! We at TRC implement this exact new product research technique with great success in our Idea Mill™ solution, and end up with many creative and unique ideas that our client companies use to move forward.

So while the presidential process strikes me as odd since any votes cast in other states following the Iowa Caucus may be inherently biased, there are opportunities where this sort of predisposition to information can work in our favor.

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3 responses to “Bias in Primary Elections and its Applicability in New Product Research

  1. The problem with primaries in general is that many candidates are weeded out early because they don’t have the financial backing needed to promote their platform. A lot of candidates are in primaries to gain name recognition for future races. In the past polling did influence a lot of voters and there are dramatic stories about coattail wins.

    That is changing though and this race in particular will be the first race where voters have access to information that is more circumspect on the candidate’s history. It’s likely that polling will become more inaccurate as the race tightens.

    It’s also likely that a level set is emerging that gives lesser known candidates more opportunity to gain equity at a faster rate and that stronger candidates may be less visible until closer to election time (think Bloomberg’s feelers) and the timing on the Democratic debates.

    The spin principle is less likely to have impact on this election and a lot will probably be decided on a candidate’s ability to use predictive analytics. The same is true of research where it doesn’t really matter how deliberate the exposures are, those who care are going to be armed with information from multiple sources. Obviously, there are those who are looking for a particular outcome and those that want to explore all the facts but in general, research is changing with the value of brand equity increasing dramatically.

    Look for a lot more information exchange to occur on non-traditional forums like Facebook with marketing influence stronger on image but collective data resources determining value. Because the world is a lot flatter now, international influence is also a player in brand and product decisions. In general accountability is increasingly an influence on product consideration. If you doubt that, just look at AT&T’s new customer centric business model.

  2. Primaries aren’t research and trying to draw conclusions about one from the other is rather like trying to learn about an apply by studying a giraffe. Or, better yet, studying the strange and long-lived political animal. the gerrymander. The sequence of states in the primary process isn’t accidental, and serves to amplify the ability of extremists in both parties to affect final party nominees. We already know that party elites don’t represent the views of most of the public. The GOP elite is further to the right and Iowans are to the right of that. The Dem elite is further to the left, and Vermonters are more extreme. That’s why there are more independents than there are party members.

    The length of the sequential process favors candidates with very deep pockets. Talk about bias.

    That process has a proven ability to produce candidates that have no appeal to the market (voters). We get candidates who get slaughtered at the general election (Goldwater, McGovern) or elections that incur general apathy (Bush-Gore).

    That’s usually not what companies want research to do for their products.

    That said, it make sense in qualitative and some quant to include product ideas that arise in prior groups or interviews to see if they appeal to others. However, we’re not telling the respondent the source of the idea. It’s just another entry on a list.

  3. Thanks for the comment Victor, including the political insight. I think generally we’re in agreement, and your last point is worth reiterating in that for the majority of research of course we don’t want to purposely bias opinions. That usually isn’t helpful. But there are cases as you say where presenting prior ideas to be judged can be useful. And taking that a step further, asking for new ideas, not only just an evaluation of old ones, can spur additional creativity, such as is the intention of Idea Mill.


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