Topics: Expert Advice, Polling, First-Time Candidates

Expert Advice: Polling

What Campaigns Need to Know About Pollsters and Polling

You may not understand what a pollster is or why a campaign conducts polling. Intuitively, you probably understand that positive polling numbers provide benefits to political campaigns. Some campaigns use poll results to help raise money or garner support. But, polling can be much more important to campaigns. Campaigns use polling just as businesses use market research.

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Together with our experts, The Prosper Group is here to provide you a better understanding of the mechanics and latest developments that drive today's successful campaigns.

Expert Advice on Polling

Expert: Brent Buchanan of Cygnal

In this edition of Expert Advice, we hear from Brent Buchanan about polling. Brent is Founder and CEO of Cygnal, a right-of-center firm that focuses on research and polling. Cygnal combines survey research, statistics, data modeling, machine learning, and other tools that uncover information to empower decisions. Providing insights and recommendations for action is their focus.

We asked Brent to quickly share with us what a pollster does and how to hire a pollster. Let's look at what he has to say:

Expert Advice: Polling

What does a pollster do?

A pollster has two jobs - reliably assess where the campaign actually stands as of today and determine who the campaign needs to communicate with and with what messages to get to a winning position.

How is polling changing?

Polling is changing rapidly as people quit answering their phones, which is more detrimental to down-ballot races than statewide races. That's why we have developed a reliable, in-house multi-mode polling approach that incorporates phones, texting, email, and online panels. We're also incorporating emotional understanding into our surveys to assess the subconscious driver of real vote choice - the "gut."

"A pollster has two jobs - reliably assess where the campaign actually stands as of today and determine who the campaign needs to communicate with..." - Brent Buchannan (@brentbuc)


When is the right time to hire a pollster?

You should hire a pollster before you need one because they should be a valuable part of the team in crafting strategy. As you look for a pollster, seek out one that is innovating.

What should someone look for when hiring a pollster?

Make sure you connect with him/her on a personal level as you'll be working with him/her a lot, and you'll have to trust him/her explicitly.

Brent Buchanan of Cygnal Brent Buchanan
Cygnal, CEO & Founder
Brent: Twitter |  LinkedIn
Cygnal: Twitter |  Facebook |  LinkedIn


Brent was generous to provide a quick look into the complex world of polling and research. Thank you for sharing this excellent guidance, Brent.

Polling and Campaigns

Before I let you go, let me share a few of my thoughts on questions you may have about pollsters and polling. My experience comes from several years of managing campaigns, consulting, and digital work. I'm not a pollster, but I'm just familiar enough to be dangerous.

Campaign Size

The amount of research done by a campaign will be a function of the race's size and scope. A competitive and well-funded U.S. Senate campaign will field research at multiple points throughout the campaign. Smaller campaigns will make decisions about investing in research based on budget and media strategy.

Smart Investments

Research allows you to make informed decisions and develop a strategy for your campaign. If a poll shows voters have heard of you, but haven't formed an opinion of you, your plan will be very different from that of a candidate running against someone well-known but disliked.

If I were a self-funding candidate thinking about investing $1 million into a run for congress, 100% I would invest first in a survey to assess my risk and plan a strategy. Potential candidates and party organizations make investments like this all the time.


Let's face it; if you have a total campaign budget of $25,000, you aren't going to spend 40% of it on polling. Pollsters provide added value that includes planning questions, interpreting results, modeling responses to the voters in the district, and providing detailed crosstabs by demographic groups.

I have seen local campaigns use alternatives to pollsters. One of the most common I've seen is a phone bank. For candidates working on a limited budget, it is essential to remember that voter identification, while important, is not a poll. A survey done by your phone volunteers will not be scientific and, more likely than not, will skew heavily toward your campaign or issue.

How Can We Help?

This information should help you as you think about pollsters and polling. There is much more that we hope to touch on in the future. Let us know at Prosper Group what questions you have about pollsters, polling, or other campaign and advocacy topics.

Please send us a message and let us know how The Prosper Group can help.

About The Prosper Group

The Prosper Group is an internationally-recognized, award-winning digital marketing agency headquartered in Indianapolis, specializing in online media, strategy, and fundraising for Republican political candidates, advocacy organizations, associations, and non-profits. The Prosper Group's best-in-industry work has been recognized for awards dozens of times by prestigious organizations such as the American Association of Political Consultants and Campaigns & Elections.

The firm has worked in tandem with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Senator Ted Cruz, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, Congressman Will Hurd, the National Association of Manufacturers, Fox News, and many other candidates and organizations.

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