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Pollsters and the Net Roots

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Sorry for the slow posting yesterday and later today as I am at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York, where I will be participating in a panel later this afternoon. Much of the content of this conference is "off topic" of polling and survey research, through there were some interesting and notable exceptions.

One unexpected example came from Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former Democratic nominee John Edwards, in a talk delivered via Skype web came (as thunderstorms had canceled her flight). Asked for her final advice, she cautioned the assembled bloggers and technologists against conducting "polls" on their web sites, warning that these non-scientific quick polls "just the people who go to these political blogs." Instead she urged the audience to send readers instead to surveys conducted by larger news organizations (though it was unclear whether she meant to send them as consumers of true survey research or as participants in the non-representative quickie polls conducted by these more mainstream web sites).

Campaign pollsters have rarely gotten involved in the technology side of their client's campaigns, but the evolution wrought by the Internet may be changing that. Pollsters are responsible for measuring attitudes among all voters, while the Internet side of campaigns tends to focus on donors and activists.

However, the sheer number of activists participating in the Obama campaign via the Internet has led that campaign to turn to "coding" and survey research to better listen to their supporters. Joe Rospars, new media director for the Obama campaign, reported that the campaign has "had to build tools the public doesn't see" to code and analyze the volume of comments they get from supporters via email and text messaging.

They have also conducted an email survey among those who have "interacted with" their field program. We have had "hundreds of thousands of responses," Rospars said, and have devoted staff to coding those responses for analysis.

Peter Daou, Internet director for Hillary Clinton for president, agreed that the Internet had been an important "listening tool" for their campaign. "All of 2008 was a real conversation though email, blogs and [comments that went] directly to senior staff."