By Paul Long
For several years now in Canada there has been a debate about whether market research companies should conduct political polls for the public if they are not being compensated by a media organization. A recent blog post by Peanut Labs’ Annie Pettit appeared recently on the Huffington Post website and summarized her belief of whether pollsters should receive payment for political polls as follows: “If their work is being used by political parties or media outlets, absolutely yes. If their work is being used by anyone other than themselves, absolutely yes.”
If one accepts this conclusion, then logically there could be an election with no, or very few, political polls taken for public release if no media organization sponsors a poll, and no research firm is willing to undertake a poll to be released publicly without being commissioned to do so.
Currently a mayoral race is taking place in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The election is taking place October 22nd, with no incumbent running, and a total of eight candidates. There have been no polls published regarding the race since February. While I do not follow Winnipeg politics, it is likely a fair assumption that much has happened in the race since the February poll results were published. The old saying that “a week in politics is a lifetime” comes to mind.
It is in this context that Winnipeg based Probe Research announced earlier this month the launch of an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign to raise money to cover costs of $8,000 Canadian (roughly $7,300 U.S. as of writing according to xe.com) to allow the company to conduct a poll for public consumption.
Last Friday the campaign reached the target, and is currently in field. According to the Indiegogo page created by Probe Research the results are scheduled to be released to contributors to the Indiegogo campaign on September 10th, ahead of the general release of the results to the public on September 12th.
Scott Mackay, President of Probe Research, has kindly agreed to answer a few questions of my questions regarding the poll.
PL: Scott, congratulations on achieving the funding goal to allow you to put the project into field.
SM: Thanks Paul. And thanks for your interest.
PL: Is this something you would try in another election campaign?
SM: Hard to say if this will eventually become the “New Normal” for funding polls in future elections. We were fortunate in this first try in that a great deal of media interest was there – which really helped us to spread the word. And, of course, the media was most interested because this was a first. I’m not sure if we would get the same level of media attention under less “historic” circumstances.
PL: Do you think that other companies conducting political polls may consider such an approach?
SM: It’s possible. But anyone going down this path in the future (including our firm) will have to find a way to spread the word far and wide enough to gather the funds needed.
PL: Are there limitations in which this might be successful? What you described in the your interview with the Winnipeg Free seemed almost to suggest a situation where you believed there was a pent-up demand for poll results.
SM: Clearly the topic of proposed poll is paramount. And if it’s a truly timely issue, there’s always the chance that the media will just step up and fund the poll as they have been doing for all of these years…. Come to think of it, the media might want to run these kind of crowd-sourced campaigns themselves in the future and then just hire a pollster with these funds? Hey, they already have a built-in publicity-making machine and this way they’d also be assured audiences would be getting the results of polls that are truly of interest. Hmmmm now you’ve really got me thinking!
PL: Have you had any conversations with other pollsters asking you about this?
SM: No our industry colleagues and competitors have been pretty quiet on this.
PL: You have had a total of $5,500 in funding for this survey come from two organizations (Manitoba Forward, a citizens’ organization interested in policy issues and the United Firefighters of Winnipeg) that met or exceeded the $1,500 amount necessary to be named sponsors of the survey. This represents well over half of the $8,000 goal. Are you surprised by this at all?
SM: I must admit, I really didn’t think this is the way it would shake-out when we first started to put this idea together. But now that I look at it, it makes sense. Maybe in the future we would find some special category for institutions and interest groups to participate so we can keep track of the real grassroots objectives around crowdsourcing.
PL: Having said that though, you still did have individuals making up for the rest of the funding. The columnist in the Winnipeg Free Press article I cited earlier asked the question “does the public still believe in polling”. Obviously some do if they are willing to help fund the mayoral survey. Do you find this encouraging?
SM: Sure it is encouraging. And I really think most people who supported this were doing it simply to make the poll happen. I heard lots of people saying that they want a poll to see what’s going on. To see who’s messages were resonating, who might be tanking. People don’t necessary want to wait until election night for this kind of intel… and why should they?
PL: Besides the right to have naming rights to the poll, other perks offered to funders were things such as meeting with you and a colleague in a pub to discuss the results, and being able to attend a reception at your office to attend a presentation of the results. Did you have an idea that these would be compelling things to offer?
SM: We felt we really had to offer something extra but, as I just said, most people seemed to be doing this as a way to assure some kind of early to mid-campaign measurement occurred. We won’t know until later this week how these “perks” were received.
PL: As Elections Canada acknowledged in 2012 when they ended the ban on rebroadcasting election results in areas where polls were closed to parts of the country where polls it is basically impossible with the existence of social media to prevent people from sharing election results. With one of your perks being early access to poll results, how likely do you think it is that one of your poll funders will share the results of the poll before they are released publicly?
SM: Yes this is something we have been talking a lot about. We are going to ask everyone to keep a lid on this at least until all donors have had a chance to read the results and think about them for a bit. Who knows if and when this will leak. But we are preparing a formal news release for later as we do feel an obligation to put our formal touch on these results and to avoid any potential confusion of the broken telephone type that is bound to occur.
PL: Scott, once again thank you very much for your time. It will be interesting to see not just how these poll results turn out, but whether crowd-funding ends up being us by Probe or another research company in the future for a political poll.
SM: Thanks again!