NEW YORK: Elections provide the forum where research and polling get the most exposure – and flawed 2016 forecasts in the US and UK delivered powerful blows to the credibility of this discipline.
In the latest issue of the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR), George Terhanian, Chief Research and Analytics Officer at the NPD Group, Inc., explores how serious the damage is – and what the consequences might be for researchers.
His examination of this topic was the subject of a paper entitled, What Survey Researchers Can Learn from the 2016 US Pre-Election Polls: How to Fine-Tune Methods and Restore Credibility.
“As an analogy,” Terhanian offered, “consider that when a plane crashes, the National Transportation Safety Board, an independent federal agency responsible for investigating civil aviation accidents, races into action to determine the crash’s cause and recommend how to prevent future ones. Such objective, rigorous scrutiny helps restore faith in flying.”
From a global perspective, he said: “Fortunately, survey research does not seem to be fundamentally flawed or broken beyond repair. Pilot error, which can be corrected, is the likely culprit behind the missed calls in the 2016 election.”
“It won’t be easy, but if survey researchers correct their mistakes, they will do themselves, their industry, advertisers, the public, and democracy a major service,” Terhanian argued.
The reasoning behind this conclusion rests on the logic that “high quality survey research” remains among the best ways of understanding public opinions and perceptions.
“That is also why pre-election polling can be hazardous, however – there is nowhere for survey researchers to hide when they make the wrong call, as they did in 2016,” Terhanian suggested.
And, in fact, he also believes the lessons from the last round of elections will help improve pre-election poll accuracy, enhance survey research quality, and increase public confidence in polls.
More content on polling and similar issues is available in WARC’s Politics section.
Data sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by WARC staff