Electoral surveys


Electoral surveys do not differ much from those applied in market research for mass consumption products. In fact, the strategy and image of electoral candidates is part of what today we call "political marketing", which is nothing more than the sum of all the actions and strategies of advertising, image and positioning of a candidate in the mind of the voter. The famous "4 Ps" of marketing such as product, price, place and promotion can also be applied in some way to the world of electoral marketing, the product being the candidate himself. Therefore, every political marketing campaign should reserve in its budget a section for research, whether quantitative (surveys) or qualitative (focus groups).

Every electoral campaign goes through different stages, from the monitoring of the candidate's image, the drafting and strategy of the political discourse, the voting intention, until reaching the ballot box at the time of voting. When carrying out quantitative research through the application of surveys, be it of a candidate for president, councilman, mayor, deputy, etc., it is possible to create information gathering instruments to carry out:

  • 1. Surveys to analyze the candidate's image and likability.
  • 2. Surveys to detect real and psychological needs and desires of citizens to serve as inputs for political discourse.
  • 3. Surveys to evaluate the impact of political discourse.
  • 4. Surveys to measure voting intentions and candidate positioning.
  • 5. Exit polls, to cross-check the official results.
  • 6. Surveys to evaluate the penetration and effectiveness of advertising media and propaganda in the electoral terrain.
  • 7. Other customized surveys to support political marketing management.


During an electoral campaign, it is of utmost importance to know and monitor the relevance of the communication channels in the voter's life. Fifty years ago, when TV penetration was incipient, political propaganda was concentrated in large billboards or posters printed on paper, with the candidate's face and a very short political slogan, which were pasted on walls in the streets and avenues of urban centers. Later, with the massification of TV and radio, electoral propaganda was more concentrated in these channels, although the printed media remained, but with less strength. Nowadays, the channels for political advertising have changed by 350% and social networks are where most of the political advertising is being concentrated, without forgetting of course the traditional media such as TV, radio and, to a lesser extent, the printed media. In developed countries, today the internet has achieved more than 90% penetration, and in emerging countries such as Latin America, we see a penetration that varies between 30% to 75%, making the internet, and more specifically social networks, the new channel for political promotion. This leads to develop surveys to investigate how advertising channels behave in the country, state or region of action of the candidate and ask the respondent about the frequency and time of exposure to these channels. We will also develop specific surveys to be applied in social networks, including surveys on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and others.

Presidential polls


The electoral researcher must know how the population is composed in terms of affinity or rejection with the party and/or with the target candidate, and measure by means of indirect questions to be inserted in the survey, the sensitivity of the voter to make a change of attitude or preference in the short term. Thus, the universe of voters can be summarized in the following 5 typified groups:

  • Group 1. The "positive radicals". This is the unconditional group that will support our candidate and the party at all costs, regardless of the changes that may occur during the campaign. That is to say, they will give a hard or safe vote in favor of our candidate.
  • Group 2. The "light sympathizers". Composed of voters who sympathize with the candidate or with the party, but who do not have a firm and decided intention in favor of our candidate.
  • Group 3. The "neutrals or neither-nor". This is the group that has not yet decided either for or against the candidate and is typically a sensitive target for the electoral campaign. In some scenarios, this group could be the majority, so the campaign deployment can be focused on convincing this group about the attributes and virtues of the candidate versus the opponents. It often happens in very close races, that at the time of applying the survey, the respondent wants to appear not to be in favor of any party or candidate, but in the end it is a hard vote for or against, so we must be smart to unmask through the survey to these voters and thus assign the correct category.
  • Group 4. The "light opponents". Composed of voters who do not openly sympathize with the candidate or with the political party, but who also do not strongly support the opposition candidate.
  • Group 5. "Negative radicals". This is the opposition group par excellence, which has defined its candidate and supports him/her fervently. That is to say, it is a hard vote against our candidate.

In any political survey it is important to detect at the time of the interview, in which group the surveyed voter is located in order to estimate the size of each segment, and to be able to count its importance, so as to be able to select and define the best communication strategies for each group.


Another area of political marketing that makes intensive use of opinion polls is voting intention studies. Voting intention is nothing more than the probability that a voter endorses, supports, sympathizes with, or casts a definitive vote for a candidate. In spite of what is believed, many studies have shown that the majority of voters could modify their voting intention over time, on all groups 2, 3 and 4 mentioned in the previous point. Therefore, electoral surveys designed to measure voting intention should consider this transversal variable, that is to say, they should be tracking, panel or pulse surveys, where changes in attitude towards the candidate over time are monitored.

Depending on how close we are to the time of the vote, the frequency of the surveys could increase. For example, if we are six months away from the elections, we could conduct intention surveys on a monthly basis, but if we are 1 or 2 months away from the election, we need to increase the frequency, to say 1 sample every week, especially if we know that the electoral race is close and there is little significant difference between the candidates. Since these are continuous studies, the way to present this data should be done through line graphs that show how the historical evolution has been, in order to establish a correlation between the candidate's strategy, image, discourse, positioning in the voter's mind and the fluctuating voting intention.


The questions to be asked in the electoral survey will depend on the variables we want to measure, whether it is image, positioning, voting intention, advertising recall or effectiveness of the communication channels, etc. Typically, questions should be asked to find out the political affinity of the interviewee, and to be able to place him/her within one of the defined electoral groups, be it radical opponent, light opponent, radical sympathizer, light sympathizer or neutral (neither-nor). You can also include scenario simulation questions, for example, if the election were today, and there were only 2 candidates A and B, for which one would you vote.

In those scenarios when there is rejection towards political issues by the population, we can mask our electoral survey as if it were a community interest survey, and at the end, when the respondent accepts the interview, we flip the course of the interview in our favor, for example, you can create a script like this "...Good morning, we are doing an environmental study to know the problems that exist with the garbage collection in the city" (feint), immediately we launch 3 questions related to the topic of garbage, and then we turn the course of the survey towards the electoral topic, in this way we catch the interest of the respondent to know his intention to vote or the opinion he/she has about the party or the candidate we are researching.

Whatever we ask in the survey, it is of utmost importance to include questions to detect the person's gender (biological sex), age, socioeconomic stratum and of course the city/region where the survey is being applied. In this way, when analyzing the data, we will be able to cross-tab any question with these socio-demographic variables and thus be able to define assertive communication strategies for each social, age and gender group.


At the beginning of the last century, perhaps between 1900 and 1950, electoral polls were incipient, little is known or available on the Internet on this subject, it was from the 1950's onwards, when the population had already achieved a higher level of education and political maturity, that polls began to be a key and routine instrument in the electoral contest. Until the 80's, polls were conducted on paper and pencil and the results were calculated by hand. From that decade onwards and with the advent of the personal computer, spreadsheets such as Calc and Lotus were the tools par excellence to tabulate data and perform a basic analysis of the results, i.e. counts and percentage frequencies. At that time the SPSS software would enter into the market, as well as Microsoft with its DOS operating system. Although back in 1960 or 1070 it was possible to conduct telephone surveys (CATI), the use of this medium to conduct polls was very limited, since only the middle and upper classes had access to this device, therefore any survey conducted by telephone at that time would have a very marked social bias.

1980 marked the beginning of the computer and software revolution and thus brought us to the year 1998. By that time Excel had already positioned itself as the spreadsheet par excellence and there were some specialized software for the tabulation and analysis of survey data, most of them developed in Fortran, Cobol and Basic. It is from the new millennium, year 2000, where the explosion and massive expansion of the Internet took place, thus many of these tools migrated from the PC to the Web. By that period, data capture could be done through online questionnaires, and results could be obtained in real time, however, data analysis was still done in Excel or SPSS, since analytical tools on the Web were not yet as powerful and developed. From 2005 to the present, the electoral survey has benefited from all the technological innovations, including real-time data collection through mobile devices and the deployment of data analysis on the Web, even seconds or minutes after the collection of surveys in the field. Another phenomenon that we have witnessed in this last decade is the intense massification of cellular telephony, achieving coverage in many countries of more than 95%, which opens up a new window of opportunity to conduct CATI surveys with high accuracy and with zero bias towards any social stratum.


Another key aspect to consider in any type of marketing survey, but with greater emphasis in electoral surveys, is the issue of sampling. The most advisable is that we rely on a professional statistician to achieve an accurate sampling, these long career professionals spend their time studying the different sampling methods and the most appropriate formulas depending on the scenario of the study. In addition to the above, sampling sometimes requires specialized software, depending on the complexity of the study and the methodology to be applied. An electoral survey without proper sampling could yield unpredictable results, and even worse, if we conduct a survey without knowing its confidence interval and sampling error, we will be reaching conclusions that we will not know the level of accuracy and risk.

Recommended Readings and Sites for Further Discussion

The Opinion poll

The Survey methodology

List of polling organizations

Electoral system of Australia

Methods of Measuring Public Opinion

Canadian voting system - Poll Analysis & Electoral Projections

IPSOS Canada

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Public Opinion Polls

Opinion surveys

Non-compulsory voting in Australia?: what surveys can (and can't) tell us


Video: Election polls: How do they work?

US Presidential Election explained