The pollster/public relations firm known as InsiderAdvantage announced today that they will be conducting an "unprecedented" poll, sponsored by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, to determine "the winner" of tonight's CNN/YouTube debate:
Because public-survey phone calls are illegal after 9 pm, InsiderAdvantage placed over 100,000 calls to registered Republicans in Florida over the past week-and-a-half, with the criteria of finding undecided registered Republican voters who said they planned to watch the debate, and who agreed to call a special toll-free number immediately after the debate to answer questions about which candidate won the contest.
Data should be collected by 10:20 pm,” said Jeff Shusterman of Majority Opinion, InsiderAdvantage’s research partners. “We will weight the data for age, gender, and geographic location, and should have results between 10:30 and 10:45.”
The results will be announced by live webcast on www.southernpoliticalreport.com, and www.insideradvantage.com from the debate site in St. Petersburg, and will be released to the media immediately after.
I was curious about the mechanics of this project, so I called Gary Reese of InsiderAdvantage. According the Reese, they made those 100,000 calls using an interactive voice response (IVR) method in which respondents hear recorded questions and answer by pressing keys on their touch-tone phones. Although they dialed 100,000 of Florida's 3.9 million registered Republicans, they were able to identify only about a thousand households willing to dial back in.
So for those who see (or are tempted to report) the results, keep in mind that this survey can only truly represent a tiny sliver of registered Florida Republicans: The roughly 1% with no preference who were planning to watch the debate and willing to call back. Of course, the audience itself is likely to be not much bigger as a percentage of U.S. households. The CNN/YouTube Democratic debate in July drew an estimated 2.5 million viewers (the US has roughly 113 million television households).
This is an interesting, innovative project, and we will certainly link to the results when available. I sent an email to Republican pollster David Hill (also a weekly columnist for The Hill), partly because of his past skepticism of instant reaction surveys of debate watchers based on "panel-back surveys." Along with what he described as "the usual caveats about robo-calling and weighting procedures," he too considers this a "useful and interesting exercise." He added:
I have done this sort of advance placement calling to test advertising embedded in programming. It gives a qualitative flavor of viewer reaction that's invaluable. Let's just be careful about making blanket statements suggesting that this definitively answers the question, "Who won the debate?" But pollsters need to try new strategies like this.
To echo that thought, remember that with a single-digit audience size, the post-debate coverage will likely have far more impact on voters' preferences than the initial reaction of the debate audience. Also, the audience for a primary debates at this stage in the campaign tends to be better educated and better informed. It includes many more voters who have an initial candidate preference but may still be open to change. By focusing only on those who were initially "undecided" (18% of Republicans as reported on the just released InsiderAdvantage poll), we may miss reactions among the soft supporters of candidates who are not absolutely certain about their choice.
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