Gallup: Opening Up The Electoral Process With Social Media

The great “predictors” of “what’s next” are always looking to tout “the next thing.”

2008, in particular, is rumored to be the “Year of Open Data.” 2008 also happens to be, I don’t know if you’ve heard, a presidential election year. I know, hold back your surprise. You must be asking yourself, “why hasn’t anyone told me this?”

Enter Gallup.  Gallup is one of the biggest collectors of data. You know them. They’re the “polling people.” They poll everything under the sun. Politics. Economics. Health care. Government. You name it, they know what people think about it. And they’re starting to open this process up to the online community. It makes sense: the online realm is public opinion at work — it’s the new “town hall,” as the cliché goes.  Gallup is a leader in measuring and discussing public opinion. It’s a natural fit.

Recently, they’ve already began to enter the social media realm by producing some top-notch video-based “daily briefings” that they post on both their website and on YouTube (which makes it quite embeddable on blogs — a good move on their part).

But they’re also starting to open up their data and their experts in a really great way. They’ve started a round of conference calls with bloggers and online opinion leaders, featuring their editor-in-chief, Dr. Frank Newport. I had the opportunity of attending the second call in this series yesterday, along with Mark Blunmenthal, the editor of Pollster.com. I was able to ask a few questions, namely about the record turnout on the Democratic side of the primaries and how it may be affecting polling accuracy, as well as the youth vote and cell phones (something I’ve always wondered about).

Dr. Newport was very candid in his responses, and gave some very satisfying answers. He explained, for instance, that there are several pockets/groups of citizens who “care” much more than they have in previous elections, and obviously that affects turnout. When there is a much more randomly distributed vote, polling accuracy isn’t as affected as when there is a non-random distribution. Makes sense once he explained it, but what’s great is that I was able to actually ask these questions.

It’s a great opportunity, and it has the potential to really open up the electoral process. We bloggers are always asking “why?,” and this is a great way to ask it.

I see this benefiting the online community in some very specific ways:

  1. As bloggers, we’re hungry for primary sources. This provides us with not only great data and video content, but allows us to interview experts.
  2. We get to understand polls, in-depth. We’re used to news shows reporting basic numbers that flash on the screen (who’s up, who’s down), and they don’t give us more than a snapshot with minimal data. But now, it can be more than just the simple “horse race” numbers that are taken at face value.  We can really explore, understand issues that matter, how these issues matter and to whom, overall trends, and possible outcomes.
  3. Bloggers can see how the issues that they discuss/care about fit into the larger picture, with a simple question.
  4. Polls can become more approachable. They can be interpreted for us by the expert. It can be as wonky as we’d like, or as down-home as we’d like.  For instance, Mark Blumenthal and I are on very different levels of understanding with polls.  Mark asked some specific, in-depth questions about sub-groups and longitudinal cross-what’s-it-analyses, and I asked some very basic questions about accuracy and methodology.

I really enjoyed this open process, and I see a great benefit for it. I’ll more than likely be attending these calls from now on, and perhaps you should join me. We should all hear about how the issues we care about play into the larger public opinion.

~ by Brad Levinson on January 29, 2008.

One Response to “Gallup: Opening Up The Electoral Process With Social Media”

  1. Brad,

    Interesting stuff. One of the things that I have found fascinating as of late is the influence of group behavior. Polls traditionally measure how one person will behave, e.g. voting for one person or the other or voting on issues vs. emotion.

    Social Network Analysis studies the influence a group has on an individual. For example, if one person within the group is more likely to vote, and that person is at the center of the group most of the members of that group are more likely to vote.

    Facebook has a CBS News Poll. On that Poll Obama and Ron Paul are leading by huge margins that can’t be explained by differences in demographics. So in and of itself the data is pretty meaningless. I would be very interested to see Facebook open its data to Gallup for a better analysis of the information. It could give us some huge insights into both voting patterns and group behavior. Obviously there could be privacy issues but I think Gallup could do enough to mitigate those concerns. And it would be a meaningful way of opening up data on another level.

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