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Public Opinion Research:
Types of Research

The five "W's"
Types of research
Who uses focus groups
Sources of opinion research
Read what some experts say

The two main types of public opinion research are polls and focus groups. While polls provide more quantitative information, focus groups provide qualitative information. Regardless of which format you are using, the phrasing of the questions is a critical factor in the accuracy of polling results and focus group results. Timing of surveys and the order of questions can also impact responses.

Benchmark Poll

The benchmark is a 20-30 minute poll covering an array of opinions about politics, issues, organizations and points of view. A poll of this length allows you to compare the effectiveness of various messages alone and in a simulated exchange between your message and a potential 'opposing' message.

Tracking Poll

This is a shorter survey conducted over a series of evenings, with a smaller number of likely voters. It taps evolving voter attitudes in the wake of paid and earned media and can help the campaign make last-minute adjustments.

Focus Groups

Generally, a focus group is a two-hour-long moderated discussion among 8-10 specially selected people, who fit into the demographic profile of your target audience. Focus groups explore the underlying attitudes, biases and perceptions that shape public opinion. Participants identify language - down to precise words and phrases - that is clear and persuasive to them and thus most likely to persuade other target audience members.

Focus groups are selected through a telephone screening process that identifies people with the characteristics you've selected. They are chosen to be relatively homogenous, which minimizes the chance of group conflict and censorship. Men and women are rarely brought together in a focus group because of the tendency of men to dominate conversations and assumptions that one gender or another has a greater expertise on or identification with certain subjects. Races are likewise separated so as not to discourage participants from expressing themselves on subjects that frequently include race or racial subtexts.

Focus groups are held in a neutral location, frequently in an office equipped with one-way mirrors and a sound system that allows observers to monitor the discussion without intruding on the group process. Groups are audio taped and transcribed and can be videotaped, with the groups' permission.

Focus group research should not substitute polling research, but it is a uniquely useful tool. It can be used for extensive testing of message, potential negatives or possible advertising. Not only do you get solid guidance on what works and what doesn't, you also invariably witness a brutally frank rejection of a variety of ideas.

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