What If The Media Rating Council Oversaw Presidential Elections

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.

9 comments about "What If The Media Rating Council Oversaw Presidential Elections".
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  1. Mary ann Lawford from Lawford Media, October 19, 2012 at 5:42 p.m.

    The reason that election laws differ from state to state is that we were trying to avoid a central federal government over which we have no control. It's the United - States - of America. So we are a group of individual entities agreeing to abid by certain rules that are in the interest of all ... but not agreeing that every state's interest is the same in all instances. And of course, the very idea of requiring that someone prove they are actually qualified to vote is just so ridiculous. We have to prove who we are to drive, to go to school, to get welfare, to fly on an airplane, to get a library card, the list is endless... .... but those pesky people who want us to prove we are citizens in order to vote ! The very nerve of them !

  2. Don Seaman from Wayne Lifestyle Magazine, October 19, 2012 at 6:02 p.m.

    Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue if we introduced "intab" to elections?

    That said, the Supreme Court could've done us all a favor in 2000 had they just given George Ivie a call. He could've made a big impact right away - although the decision about that election might still be under subcommittee review. (Kidding, George...)

    But you know that if we did use the MRC model, they certainly would've gotten the call right.

    But now that you've made the mental connection between Honey Boo Boo and the Presidential election, Rob, I think I need to go lie down. There are some thoughts that you can't unthink.

  3. Kevin Killion from Stone House Systems, Inc., October 19, 2012 at 6:23 p.m.

    Without the Electoral College, a close election would lead to legal battles for stray votes in precincts in every township, county and state in the country. Imagine the chaos of the 2000 election, but a thousand times worse.

    Regarding voting rules: I just had training the other day to be an election judge, and the number of ways that a person can vote is dizzying. Here in Illinois there are no fewer than 16 variations allowing a person to vote even if they aren't in the official registry and voter list. By 2016, I hope we have in place a suitable procedure that guarantees that 1) every 18+ non-felon citizen can vote, 2) once, and 3) that no one else can.

  4. John Grono from GAP Research, October 19, 2012 at 6:33 p.m.

    Very interesting piece Rob. Here downunder we are a Commonwealth of states. We have the same election practices in each state and elecorate under the 'equal opportunity' principle. However, not every vote carries the same 'weight' as we take into account both the population and the geographic size of the electoral area - but we ensure that the range of weights is within agreed tolerances. We also all vote within the same 10 hour period on the same day (though with the Internet the 'same-day media blackout' is less effective). But most importantly we have compulory voting. Of course not everyone who can vote does but we get around a 95% turnout. Issues of 'weighting' the results then become virtually irrelevant. I think the 'everyone counts and count everyone' principle works well.

  5. William Hoelzel from JWB Associates, October 20, 2012 at 11:39 a.m.

    In the aftermath of the Civil War, we decided that federal citizenship was paramount over state citizenship. Your state cannot deny me my rights as a U.S. citizen because your state's laws differ from mine. We are NOT a confederation -- that ended in 1789. We are one nation, indivisible, and I think it's ridiculous to talk of state's right and secession in the wake of the Civil War -- where 625,000 people died, more than any other war this nation fought. The Electoral College is ridiculous, too -- at a time when banks can tally our balances to the penny, why can't we count everyone's vote, and why are there ANY "swing states" that garner all the attention from candidates? Because somebody benefits from the status quo . . . .

  6. Rob Frydlewicz from DentsuAegis, October 20, 2012 at 11:47 a.m.

    Thanks for all of your comments. Mary Ann, I suppose I'm a Federalist at heart. Don, sorry if I caused any fitful nights of sleep with my "Boo Boo" example. Kevin, fascinating, isn't it, to learn how the sausage is made - but a sharp analytical mind like yours should easily be able to keep it all straight. And John, I can't imagine any activity in the US getting 95% participation. (I thought that only happened in dictatorships!) I believe our turnout would be helped somewhat if elections were held on Sunday, but "tradition" causes the inertia that won't let that happen.

  7. Daryl McNutt from New Moon Ski & Bike, October 20, 2012 at 4:10 p.m.

    Hold up! I like this piece and the discussion it created but stating the MRC is the be all, end all in accurate audience reporting is a huge leap of faith. If they really wanted to be transparent and impartial they would not charge folks to view results of audits for audience measurement systems. They would also demand an error rate for all campaign level audience measurement products. I agree with the articles voice but not with the title.

  8. John Grono from GAP Research, October 20, 2012 at 5:55 p.m.

    Rob ... hardly a dictatorship! As a people we decided that voting was adult citizen's responsibility. Just like paying your taxes, using the same currency, agreeing to drive on the same side of the road etc. So, our constitution and laws prescribe compulsory voting hence the c. 95% turnout rate. In essence, the 'price' of living in our great country is that once every three years you have to 'have your say' and vote - we sorta like it that everyone gets their say and exercises that right (well .. three times if you count the Federal, State and Local levels of government - but that is another story).

  9. Rob Frydlewicz from DentsuAegis, October 22, 2012 at 11:31 a.m.

    William, here, here for the popular vote! Daryl, the biggest challenge for me wasn't writing of the article but coming up with a pithy headline, so I chose the NY Post route and sensationalized it a bit! And John, my mind reels pondering how different the course of events in the US might be if our voter participation rate was like Australia's.

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