Gamification and Political Polling

Gamification and Political Polling

Ah, election season! Once a serious and thoughtful affair, the modern election now competes for such metrics as viewers, market share, brand awareness, and favorability. Elections are brand warfare, played out in open combat. And if elections are brands, and brands use research, elections use research—though they generally preferred to be called “pollsters.”

Political polling is serious business: over $60 million was spent during the 2014 U.S. campaign cycle alone. But like all other forms of research, polling has two major shortcomings:

  1. The accuracy of political polling depends on our ability to collect feedback from a statistically representative sample of the people who are going to vote. Unintended sample bias has been the primary contributor to grossly inaccurate polling results, such as the Scottish independence referendum, the 2014 U.S. midterms, or the 2012 U.S. presidential election.
  2. Authentic and honest feedback is required to create authentic and predictable results. Voting decisions are oftentimes deeply personal and involve many trade-offs that may not be answered with a simple yes/no checkbox.

The Gamification of Politics

We’ve seen and measured the benefits of gamification in traditional consumer research, for subjects such as product or brand preferences. We wondered: can the same results be replicated in the field of politics?

Early indicators suggest that a gamified MaxDiff exercise could serve as an excellent supplement to traditional polling designs. By repeatedly presenting voters with a series of choice scenarios, it was possible to measure not just the overall preferred candidates but also the intensity of that preference. This quantified previously anecdotal observations, such as:

  • Donald Trump has a strong group of supporters, but has an equally strong group of detractors;
  • Some candidates, such as George Pataki or Ben Carson, are selected much less often as either a favorite or disliked candidate;
  • Most of the Republican candidates currently at the bottom of the rankings are there not because of weak awareness, but because of strong negative sentiment.

Play the Republican Presidential Nominee game here.

Supplementing Candidate Preferences with Position Priorities

In addition to measuring the prospects of political candidates, MaxDiff games are extremely effective at prioritizing the issues that are most or least important to the public. For example: which of the following issues are important to you?

  • Climate change
  • Public education
  • Health care
  • Privacy
  • Gun regulations

If you’re like most of the people who played our issues game, you would probably say “all of these things are important.” Most constituent polls collect feedback in exactly this manner: presenting a laundry list of issues and asking which are important, potentially using leading questions in support of a political messaging campaign.

When forced to choose a most-important and least-important issue from a set of issues, however, we learn which issues are truly important enough to sacrifice other issues.

Play the public policy issues game here.

Calling All Political Campaigns!

Sadly, the feedback surveys we receive from our elected officials rarely resemble a commercial-grade study. There are some exceptions to the rule, but there’s a not-so-fine line between polling and push-polling. If you’re a campaign manager or pollster who’s more interested in measuring data rather than promoting data, MaxDiff and gamification can offer you many advantages.