Decision MediaWorks

The Future of Political Polling

Over the next decade, the world of political science research, and polling in particular, is going to change radically. The onset of wearable technology, from Google Glass to smart watches, will allow pollsters to get astoundingly detailed data on political sentiment.

So what’s wrong with our current polling and political research methods? First, polling generally relies on landline calls to voters. More and more, landline usage is relegated to businesses and senior citizens, making it increasingly difficult to get a true random sample of voters over the phone. Second, the survey instrument itself is extremely limited; questions may bias answers and respondents may lie about their actual thoughts and feelings.

In recent years, the most insightful research on consumer behavior has come from labs equipped with devices to read blood pressure, heart rate and brain waves. The consumer mind, it turns out, is hardly rational, but rather racked with conflicting emotions and biological responses. If this topic interests you, I recommend reads like Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely and Buyology by Martin Lindstrom.

The net result is that current political research methods appear crude and un-detailed given the complexity that we know exists in the consumer and political mind. The question facing pollsters is, how do we get better data?

The answer is “bio-polling” (yes, I’m coining that term).

The next generation of wearable technology will have sensors able to record things like heart rate, body temperature, pupil dilation and a host of other physiological responses in real-time. Of course, these sensors will sync with your phone which is connected to the internet. The result will be a world of detailed consumer data that could previously only be gathered in the lab.

Want to know how strongly favorable (or unfavorable) a voter feels about President Obama? Show him a picture of the president on his phone and monitor heart rate. Elevated heart rate will indicate stronger feelings.

Want to raise money for your upcoming campaign? Buy a list of voters who showed strong physiological responses to certain issue questions and send a fundraising letter mentioning that issue.

The insights and uses of these new data points are vast and are only starting to be explored. The biggest problem faced by would-be political entrepreneurs and pollsters in this nascent sector is how to get voters to participate.

Some believe that apps will develop which incentivize users to share responses and data through gifts or rewards. Selected users would be pushed questions and responses would earn points redeemable for rewards. In essence, these apps would “gameify” polling. Other models revolve around using highly targeted online ad campaigns to get specific groups of voters to participate on an ad hoc basis.

Whatever solution the market ends up selecting, the massive investments both parties are making in technology will provide early capital and pilot opportunities for polling startups. I don’t have an exact prediction on when “bio-polling” will surface but don’t be surprised if you are reading about it during the next presidential cycle.

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