The tool was developed and trademarked as Deliberative Polling® three decades ago by Stanford University Professor James Fishkin, who felt that most citizens were usually not well informed about many political issues, and should be re-polled after being provided information about the issue. To date, Fishkin has conducted more than 70 such polls, covering a wide range of issues, target groups, and geographies. In Fishkin’s model, respondents were brought together in a face-to-face setting, and were polled prior to the information being disseminated, and then immediately afterwards, minimizing respondent drop-out during the second poll. However, deliberated polls can be conducted via telephone or online, with the understanding that there may be respondent drop-off via these methods.
Why use such a tool? For one, it can provide researchers and analysts with a better assessment of an audience’s informed sentiment or feelings, with the assurance that they have had an opportunity to immerse themselves in the issue. In essence, the technique prevents poll results from being skewed or biased due to a lack of knowledge about the issue at hand, or due to a lack of interest.
As an example, people who are polled on a complex topic may simply respond in line with their own pre-conceived ideological belief pattern if they are simply asked about it without providing additional information, due to ignorance, fear of appearing that they are not ‘informed,’ or apathy. The theory behind the use of a deliberated poll is that reasonable respondents will take this information, synthesize it with their own experiences and believe structures, and then answer a second poll, rather than simply provide a non- or less-informed answer.
Of course, the key challenge with constructing a deliberated poll is ensuring that the information provided is balanced and unbiased. From the materials presented, to the types of “experts” providing additional insight, and, of course, how the poll questions are phrased, care must be taken to eliminate bias if the ultimate goal is to uncover true insights from a respondent group. Not surprisingly, less-than-unbiased groups can manipulate the content or presentation of information to influence the outcome of a poll for their own gain.
Deliberated polls are often used in a political context, but they also can yield significant insights for the business researcher and analyst, marketer, and sales professional. Testing the type of information provided between the first and second polls can used to identify which types of data, messaging, or imagery resonates strongly with respondents, which material is well-retained, and whether the inclusion of this information has an overall impact on the respondents’ opinions.