I’m agitated by the upcoming presidential election. Not because I’m worried about the outcome, since I’m pretty confident my guy is going to win. Rather, as a media researcher, it boggles my mind that the election of the individual who is undoubtedly the most powerful person on the planet doesn’t require much more rigorous standards in how he/she is selected.
Many of us in the field of media research have spent our careers working to improve flaws methodologies of the various companies that conduct audience research. In particular, the Media Rating Council (MRC) plays a crucial role in establishing methodological standards that research companies are expected to meet if they wish to be accredited.
Although the Federal Election Commission oversees the advertising spending aspect of presidential elections, no such regulatory body exists to oversee voting procedures on a national basis. As a result we have a jerry-rigged system that is out of step in today’s age of smartphones, iPads and Kindles. What does it say about a nation that has a more buttoned up procedure for generating ratings for “Honey Boo Boo” than it does for ensuring that the voice of the people is heard when electing its leader?
It’s ludicrous that election standards vary not only by state but also by county. There are different methods for how votes are cast (who can forget Florida’s “hanging chads”?), different rules for voter registration, different times when polls are open, and some states require ID be shown at the polling place (courts in a number of battleground states recently overturned such laws),
While media research companies bend over backwards to ensure proper representation of minority audiences (often using higher premiums and oversampling), some election officials try their best to institute procedures that can discourage or prevent minorities, the poor and the elderly from voting.
And then there’s the nonsense with the earliest presidential primaries being held in the least representative states – and the reason given for not changing the primary system is “tradition.” (Imagine test marketing being done on this basis!)
I’ve also pondered how election results might change if they were weighted back to the population as most research companies do with their samples. Older voters would likely lose their disproportionate influence while the issues of groups with a lower propensity to vote, e.g., the poor, young and minorities would warrant more attention from candidates. At first blush this might seem outlandish, but is it any more preposterous than using the Electoral College instead of a direct popular vote?
So whenever we have the urge to bemoan the methods used to determine media audiences let’s step back every now and then and acknowledge that the advertising industry has done a magnificent job compared to the woeful way in which we elect the chief we hail.
With 30 years of media research experience under his belt, Rob Frydlewicz is principal at RAF Media Research Consulting.