Online polling – legitimate or not?

May 31, 2007 at 9:51 am Leave a comment

Here is something from the mainstream media, the International Herald Tribune has published an interesting article about the legitimacy or not of online polling – basically the use of online survey tools to conduct polling with broad audiences.

The article pits two main players in the field – Yougov against TNS.

The representative from TNS says about internet polling:

“Internet polling is like the Far West, with no rules, no sheriff and no reference points.”

Of course, he has a point although the counter argument is that *offline* polling – usually done by calling people on their fixed phone line – is fastly becoming obsolete as countries create “no call” lists and people use increasingly their mobile phones.

From my perspective, I would see the debate from a slightly different angle:

  • We shouldn’t forget the approach of triangulation, that is the combination of different research methods to bring us closer to the *truth*. Internet polling, if combined with other research methods (interviews, focus groups, observations) can become more useful.
  • The whole article focuses only on surveying *unknown* audiences – that is members of the public as a whole. However, most evaluation that I see undertaken is done with *known” audiences, e.g. staff, partners, customers, members, etc. For *known* audiences, the use of internet polling is efficient and reliable, assuming of course that your audience does have access to the Internet. Of course, if you are trying to gauge the opinions of audiences that are obviously not using the Internet, then another approach would be appropriate.


Entry filed under: Evaluation methodology, General.

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