Why Daily Opinion Polling Matters

2 06 2010

This piece first appeared here.

The modern world feels more connected than ever before: a single message can be conveyed thousands of miles to millions of people at minuscule cost. With all this information flowing around, how can we discover what people think? Are more regular surveys the answer?

Long-term trends and short-term fluctuations. Communication, social change, technological advancement, and economic development: these all happen much more quickly than the research world is accustomed to. It can take so long to discover what people think, they may well have changed their view by the time conclusions can be drawn, or the question may no longer apply in the same way.

  1. Daily polling can keep up with the fastest trends and will never go out-of-date. It may take six polls to track a change in opinion – if this only occurs over a six-month period, the change may have been and gone by the time traditional polls could have measured it. Daily polling will measure these longer term changes precisely, as well as collecting enough data to identify shorter term changes as they happen.

You are like your group. Constant communication might give us the potential to talk to anyone, but in reality we actually just talk more often to people who are like us and tend to hold views similar to our own. We know even less of what people think outside of our own group than we did before, as more intensive interaction within our groups reinforces our views further.

  1. Daily polling is nationally representative, so reflects the views of the entire nation; it acts as a mirror to the whole of society, rather than just the part to which you belong. This gives a sense of perspective and broader understanding of people who exist outside your immediate surroundings.

Opinion belongs to the people. Politicians and the media no longer holds the monopoly on the means of distribution of news, opinion, and data. Disintermediation is an irreversible trend.

  1. Daily polling takes this trend a stage further by reflecting the public’s opinion back to itself without any editorial direction or spin from media organisations, political parties, or interested businesses. This was clearly seen after the leaders’ debates as there was not time for the party spin doctors to influence the public’s perception of the debate before the winner was declared. Daily polling is a core part of interactive democracy.

Narrative. We understand the world through stories, and the current ‘glimpses’ that conventional polling and research provide incomplete and inconsistent evidence from which to create these stories. Social media provides unrepresentative data (opinions on twitter come from a specific sub-group within the UK population), and is focussed on specific topic areas (there are lots of people talking about celebrities online, far fewer about pensions).

  1. Daily polling provides a vast body of evidence from which we can construct credible and insightful public narratives, circumscribing the role of rumour, baseless prediction, and conjecture. We provide the raw data from which anyone can build a 3D picture of life as it is lived, and as it changes. We poll on a broad range of important topics, and provide a large volume of robust data

Precedent. Governmental approval ratings are a core part of public life in the United States. They provide a profound sense that the government is always accountable to the people (rather than just once every five years).

  1. The British Government is not yet used to this kind of scrutiny, which has been a contributing factor to the sense of disconnect between parliament and the public. As Rousseau put it: “The English people believes itself to be free; it is gravely mistaken; it is free only during election of members of parliament; as soon as the members are elected, the people is enslaved; it is nothing.” Our polling data could be used to change this.

Routine. Polls at the moment are treated with a mixture of suspicion and derision. They are sporadic, difficult to place in a appropriate context, and too thinly-spread to interpret as part of a broader narrative.

  1. Daily polls will become a part – but only a part – of the public discourse. Regularity will mean that we lose some of the poll hysteria from which we currently suffer. Daily polling’s unique strength as an identifier of both short-term fluctuations and long-term trends will become a predictable source of reliable information for the public debate. They will form part of the picture of public reality, embedded within other models.

Ali Unwin ( @aliunwin )

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