In the case of the Republican primary, the reasons for the polls missing are more complex. The GOP debate that happened shortly before the election found many contemplating the low level of discourse among three of the four candidates, and the more they thought about it, the more sentiment swung to the only candidate that remained above the fray, John Kasich.
Another factor was the loss of other candidates shortly before the primary. As a result, voters who were undecided in many cases voted for Kasich, and others who had decided for a candidate changed their minds when their favorite candidate dropped out.
These changes were clear for anyone who checked voter sentiment in real time, but few news organizations did that. Had they checked the publicly available real-time polls of voter sentiment, the surge in voter sentiment favoring Sanders and Kasich would have been clear. Even the day after the March 8 primary, favorable voter sentiment for both Kasich and Sanders remained high, which is additional evidence that the voter sentiment was both real and observable.
You can see the voter sentiment levels on the LUX2016 site, which tracks real-time sentiment using social media. LUX2016, from ICG Solutions, is a real-time big data analysis engine that is capable of processing and analyzing vast quantities of real-time data.
In this case the engine was aimed at the entire output of several social media sites simultaneously. For the analysis of sentiment during the March 8 primary, the data came from Twitter and Facebook, where it was analyzed for positive and negative sentiment regarding each candidate, along with sentiment regarding important issues being considered in the campaigns.
The data from the entire output was analyzed for probable gender, party affiliation, location, and age group. That information was also stored in aggregate and is available through a simple click to query dashboard. If you click on the link above, the LUX2016 engine is reporting voter and issue sentiment in real time at the bottom of the page.
The exit polls conducted by several news organizations also showed that the contest in Michigan wasn’t turning out as predicted, but those from the news media aren’t normally available until after the polls close, at which point they’re useful for analysis, but not for prediction.
The weaknesses of polling are important to know about far beyond the political arena. When your organization conducts a survey, the very best result it can hope for is a measure of sentiment at the moment the questions are answered. That sentiment can’t be counted on to hold true for long and it may not be right in the first place, since after all, people sometimes lie.
But whether it’s a Web survey, a scientific survey conducted by a polling company, or a focus group, you can’t count on the result as being absolutely reliable. In fact, there are times when listening to answers in a focus group or in a survey doesn’t tell you as much as watching what happens while you’re getting the answers. Especially in focus groups, participants say and do a lot of things that aren’t on the answer questionnaires, but can provide valuable information.
But it’s also important to know that studies of sentiment, whether it’s from voters or customers, can provide valuable insight. Sometimes that insight can be critical to the success of your company. But it’s also important to know that no matter how good a poll is, it can’t predict the future.