Reaching the Right Voters: Using Online Sample for Smarter Political Campaigns

April 17, 2024 Author: Emmily Maduro

With the 2024 presidential election looming, political campaigns and voters are gearing up for what could be the most highly anticipated showdown in recent memory. While there are few certainties at this point, one factor has become abundantly clear. In this highly competitive climate, voter data collection is undergoing a dramatic transformation as political campaigns employ increasingly sophisticated methods to understand the electorate.

Traditional methods, heavily reliant on phone calls and in-person surveys, are giving way to a new era of online sample collection that makes political market research faster, more cost-effective, and ultimately, more insightful.

The Limitations of Traditional Methods

For decades, political campaigns relied on phone surveys and doorstep polling to understand voter sentiment. While these methods can provide valuable data, they come with inherent limitations. Phone surveys struggle with low response rates. Increasing spam calls and robocalls makes people wary of unknown numbers, and some demographics, like younger voters, just aren’t interested.

In-person surveys, while offering a higher response rate and access to hard-to-reach audiences, are expensive and time-consuming. Achieving a statistically significant sample size across a large geographical area can be a logistical nightmare for campaigns with limited resources.

The Benefits of Online Samples

The 2020 pandemic accelerated consumers’ shift to digital, from e-commerce to streaming. The same can be said for political campaigns. By turning to online sample collection, political campaigns can partner with online survey platforms with access to vast pools of pre-recruited participants, streamlining data collection and potentially reaching demographics less accessible through traditional methods.

These platforms leverage a variety of methods to build their samples, including:

  • Online Recruitment: Individuals can sign up to become panelists and receive invitations to participate in surveys on various topics, including politics, often in exchange for incentives like points or rewards.
  • Social Media: Platforms can leverage targeted advertising on social media to recruit participants who meet specific demographic criteria.
  • Website Intercepts: Visitors to a campaign website can be invited to participate in a short survey before leaving the site.

The abundance of and accessibility to consumer data have made online sample popular among political campaigns, and its advantages have proven beneficial for candidates. During the 2018 U.S. midterm election, the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaign (AOC) leveraged online surveys to identify key issues for voters in her district and tailor her messaging accordingly. The campaign's data-driven approach is credited with helping AOC achieve a surprise victory over a well-funded incumbent.

More specifically, the advantages of online sample include:

  • Larger, more diverse samples: Online platforms offer access to millions of potential participants, allowing campaigns to gather data from a broader range of demographics and geographic locations. This ensures a more accurate representation of the electorate, leading to more informed campaign decisions.
  • Faster turnaround times: Online surveys can be deployed quickly and efficiently, with results available in a matter of days. Campaigns can adapt their messaging and strategies in real-time based on voter feedback.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Online sample collection is significantly more affordable than traditional methods. Campaigns can gather a wealth of data at a fraction of the cost of phone surveys or in-person polling.
  • Data quality: Many online platforms employ rigorous screening processes to ensure the quality of their data, including verifying participant identities and filtering out bots or fraudulent entries.
  • Detailed targeting: Online surveys allow for highly targeted questioning based on demographics, political affiliation, or past voting behavior to customize messaging to specific voter segments.
  • Advanced data analysis: Online survey platforms often provide built-in data analysis tools, allowing campaigns to identify trends and patterns within the data.

Addressing Concerns About Online Samples

While online samples offer numerous advantages, there are some potential drawbacks. One concern is the possibility of non-response bias. People who choose to participate in online surveys may not be representative of the entire population. 

However, reputable online survey platforms employ weighting techniques to adjust for this bias and ensure the sample reflects the demographics of the target population.

Another concern is the potential for online fraud. Bad actors may attempt to skew survey results by submitting fake responses. To mitigate this risk, online survey platforms can utilize various security measures, such as CAPTCHAs and IP address verification.

Campaigns must ensure they are partnering with reputable survey platforms with robust data security measures. Additionally, participants must be fully informed about how their data will be used and must have the option to opt out of surveys.

The Future of Political Market Research

The use of online samples by political campaigns is not a trend but a fundamental shift in how information is gathered. As online platforms evolve and refine their methodologies, the data will become even more robust and actionable, empowering campaigns to develop targeted messaging that builds stronger connections with voters, potentially leading to more votes.