TCHQ Tip of the Week: Polling Part 2
Benchmark and Tracking Polls
We continue with polling this week. If you missed Part 1 you can read it here. If you are familiar with basic polling terms such as sample, margin of error, etc… you do not need to read Part 1 first.
This week we will look at the two basic types of polling: benchmark poll and tracking poll.
Benchmark polls will have numerous questions and could in some cases last 20 minutes or longer. Personally, I recommend 10-12 minutes as a good target length. It is long enough to give you a good idea of the political landscape, but short enough you should have a reasonably high completion rate.
Benchmark polls are usually done early in a campaign cycle. Depending on local laws, you may poll even before final decision to run has been made. They impact most major strategy decisions in the campaign: issue that will be stressed, the campaign theme, endorsements to be sought, surrogates to be used, media strategy, micro-targeting, and more.
Let me be VERY clear on this; the least important information in a benchmark poll is the horse race (i.e. who is winning). Early horse race questions are generally reflections of nothing more than name ID.
Tracking polls are very short and usually have only a handful of questions. They usually have smaller samples than benchmarks, but are done at regular intervals throughout the campaign.
Campaigns with larger budgets will put tracking polls into the field several days a week starting several months before Election Day; medium budget campaigns will do weekly tracking polls every week or two for a couple of months before Election Day. Smaller budget campaigns should schedule at least 3-4 tracking polls for a couple of days after major campaign landmarks: the start of a TV buy, after dropping a direct mail piece or after a debate.
Because of the limited number of questions, tracking polls will focus on the horse race or maybe effectiveness of an issue. What a tracking poll does is literally track the momentum of the race.
Tracking polls are used to make decisions about allocating resources late in a campaign, going negative against your opponent, getting money from groups like the party or caucus, a candidate putting personal money in the race and more.
Overall, both types of polls play important roles in a campaign and should be one of the major factors in any major decision the campaign makes.