As more people cancel their landlines and ignore unfamiliar numbers that pop up on their cell phones, the reliability of traditional telephone polling has become suspect. When the highly respected Pew Research Center recently decided to examine the effectiveness of their own work, they discovered that only 9 percent of Americans were responding to their surveys.
Though the methodology study found that members of both political parties were represented appropriately in their efforts to reach an accurate sampling of the public, there were significant gaps in areas related to civic engagement and political involvement when compared to data from large-scale U.S. Government surveys.
Pew Center responders were much more likely to claim volunteerism, interaction with political representatives, and participation in their communities as reasons for low participation -- all important categories in which a disparity could conceivably jeopardize the accuracy of related polls.
Using unnatural incentives like small free gifts to increase survey participation has also proven to lead to skewed results.
While a larger study sample is important, one that has been induced to participate does not improve the overall accuracy of responses.
When asked to comment on the results of the Pew Center's methodology survey, U.S. Census Director Robert Groves said that collecting data from Internet-based sources is helping to fill in gaps where traditional polling has begun to fall short.
Using this additional data allows researchers to pull information and insight from a larger audience of people who are interacting in natural ways without the influence of outside enticements.
In fact, when considering the sheer number of people active in various online forums, there exists a real case for social media analysis as a critical supplement to other forms of opinion polling.
The majority of plugged-in Americans spend most of their Internet time on social networks and blogs, engaging in everything from reading to commenting to posting their own articles and opinions. Though 1 in 5 adults in the United States aren't online, the 80% who are make use of Facebook, Twitter, and other networking sites on a regular basis, and more people connect each year.
For example, Facebook saw a dip in younger users last year, but the number of voting-age participants increased significantly.
Late 2011 research revealed that more than half of all users had shared political content on Facebook. Influential 18-34 year-olds also make up the largest demographic on Twitter, where they are prone to sharing political opinions and debate.
Both presidential and local election campaigns have become increasingly reliant on digital strategies to gain influence and attract donors. However, social media has untapped potential that reaches far beyond the scope of advertising.
In May, comScore's The Digital Politico: 5 Ways Digital Media is Shaping the 2012 Election revealed that among popular political websites with high levels of user-generated content, Independent voters made up the largest share of most audiences.
This is critical information for campaign strategists who need to monitor their candidate's reception by swing voters who have not declared allegiance to a specific party.
Social media monitoring tools like the ones at OhMyGov allow these strategists to analyze a plethora of news sites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks to view prevailing sentiments, trending stories, and popular status updates while also monitoring the legislator's social media fan base for ups and downs in connection to blog and news mentions.
Knowing that there are gaps in the ability of traditional polling techniques to track opinions with accuracy, candidates and their teams would be remiss not to view social media as a rich database of political opinions and perceptions to tab into to augment ailing survey research methods.
Social network analysis can provide critical insight on trending opinions, public sentiment, the impact of potential gaffes on the campaign trail, and the success of various attempts to engage voters during this election cycle and beyond. Survey says: telephone polling has its place, but social media monitoring is the wave of the future.