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Guest Pollster: Presidential Net Promoters

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[Today's Guest Pollster contribution comes from Alex Lundry, research director at the Republican polling firm, TargetPoint Consulting.]

TargetPoint Consulting recently partnered with the Cook Political Report and RT Strategies, adding a new political research question called the Net Promoter Score (NPS) to their most recent national omnibus survey (March 6-9, N=802). This measure, adapted from the world of consumer research, attempts to measure voter enthusiasm and passion for a candidate. The results provide some new understanding to how the general election for President could shape up given either an Obama or Clinton candidacy.

First introduced by Frederick Reichheld in the Harvard Business Review and since popularized in his book, "The Ultimate Question," the NPS is used in the business world as a customer satisfaction metric, measuring a customer's likelihood to recommend a product, brand or company to someone else. This captures a number of difficult-to-quantify emotions, attitudes and preferences, by posing it as a recommendation. A recommendation is the ultimate endorsement, showing just how passionately you feel about a particular company or product. A recommendation means putting your own reputation on the line; an indication of loyalty, passion, and even the latent potential for word of mouth buzz.

The question is simple:

On a 0 to 10 scale, with 0 being "not at all likely" and 10 being "extremely likely," how likely is it that you would recommend voting for [INSERT CANDIDATE NAME] in the next election to a friend or colleague?

The NPS is calculated by subtracting the number of detractors (ratings of 0-6) from the number of promoters (ratings of 9 and 10). In the business world, +16 is the median score of more than 400 companies across 28 industries; CostCo has one of the highest known scores at +81. (See the NPS website for more details and similar statistics).

Studies have shown a direct and significant correlation between a business' score and company growth - specifically, a 7 point increase in overall NPS or a 2 point reduction in the percentage of detractors can each account for one percent of positive growth, thus indicating the potential electoral consequences of this measure once adapted to political polling.

To be fair, the NPS is not without it's own set of detractors and it's validity in the political world remains to be seen. For now we can only speculate about any correlation with electoral outcomes. Nonetheless, there is some promising historical data: TargetPoint began tracking the NPS on a generic congressional ballot in September of 2005 through August of 2006 and the results did seem to forebode the Republican fall from favor and the impending Democratic advances of that November. During that time the GOP NPS had a distinctively downward slope, falling from a high of +56 to a low of +11; meanwhile, the generic Democratic NPS trended upwards from a low of +32 to a high of +56.

But what about this year's election? In an Obama/McCain match-up McCain leads 45-43, but the NPS indicate some form of an "enthusiasm advantage" for Obama: among Obama voters, the NPS is +28 (53% promoters minus 25% detractors); while 48% of McCain voters are promoters and 31% detractors for a NPS of +17. Hence an Obama advantage of 11 points.

The Clinton/McCain ballot (McCain leads 47-45) again shows a Democrat enthusiasm advantage, though a slightly smaller one of 8 points (McCain: 44% promoter, 33% detractor, +11 NPS; Clinton: 48% promoter, 29% detractor, +19 NPS).

Though there is little surface difference between the candidates, deeper analysis indicates two critical demographic differences: enthusiasm among youth and Independent voters. The NPS among Independents voting for Obama (+30) is a stunning forty-nine points higher than the score among Independent McCain voters (-19). Interestingly, McCain actually wins Independents against both Clinton and Obama, but his Indy voters are much less enthusiastic than either Obama's or Clinton's. Clinton's NPS among her independent voters is also negative (-5), and a full 45 points short of Obama's. It appears that a Clinton candidacy would remove any passion or enthusiasm among Democrat-voting Independents.

Finally, we see nearly identical performance among 18-40 year olds. McCain's NPS among this age group is +7 and -5 against Obama and Clinton respectively; Clinton actually performs worse than McCain here, with a negative score of -13, while Obama dominates at +32. Again, we are left wondering what would happen to this youth enthusiasm should Clinton become the nominee.

Keep in mind that these are scores among people already voting for that particular candidate. While a vote is still all that matters on Election Day, a recommendation driven campaign can produce new votes faster, cheaper and in a more trustworthy and impactful way than traditional campaign appeals of advertising, direct mail and robo-calls.