Polling is More Than a Ballot Test

Show me the political environment, election trends, and candidate images in any district in the country, and I’ll tell you where the race stands today.

Too often, campaigns, consultants, and committees get tied around the axel over the ballot test. What matters more is what has to be done to win the race by shifting voters’ views of the candidates and handling the headwinds or tailwinds of the environment.

Let me get really nerdy for a second. Behavioral psychology tells us there are two ways to assess candidates and issues – implicitly or explicitly. The Queen’s English Society explains it as: “Explicit means something is made clear and stated plainly. Implicit means something is implied but not stated directly.”

Voters believe they determine their opinions about candidates explicitly by issues and stances. What really happens is that the subconscious emotional brain makes many implicit assumptions based on how the candidate makes them feel. Then voters justify that with explicit information. This is why Cygnal places so much emphasis on emotive analysis and principles over issues.

(Nerding done.) This means we have got to quit obsessing over the ballot test in polling. If that’s the only reason you’re running a poll, you’re wasting your money. Outside of a likely voter screener, the ballot test is the least informative component.

Add this on top of the fact that most practitioners ignore the margin of error when looking at the horserace on the poll toplines.

How should polls be used instead?

Pay attention to how you’re shaping the narrative of and emotions toward the candidate (seen in the image test and emotive analysis). Focus on the fundamentals of a race and the political environment. Understand what voters believe and more importantly why they feel that way. Determine what voter groups are underperforming historical partisan support or interest.

To boil it down: Shift your attention from the “what” to the “why” which will unlock the “how.”

Our tagline is “intelligence for action” because knowing the ballot is a small bit of intelligence, understanding the environment and emotions is a lot more intelligence, and having a team that understands that and that will guide you through what it all means and what you need to do now is action.