The only poll that matters is on election day” – said almost every politician ever.

Not so. Polling is the temperature check of a target audience on any given issue at a particular point in time. It’s useful for gauging how your organisation is tracking on an issue or as an industry and it’s an essential tool for advocacy campaigns.

Polling is undergoing a dynamic shift in Australia, with outcomes not always aligning with the predictions - the Victorian Election is the latest example. Despite this, it can still be an unparalleled asset to use in your advocacy. If used in a targeted way, it can clearly demonstrate how your issues influence voter behaviour and the consequences of this for stakeholders in government.

Types of polling

Qualitative – Generally utilises focus groups, employing an external company to test ideas with a sample of the target demographic e.g. testing which messages work best for a new chocolate bar advertising campaign.

Quantitative – More traditional polling using questionnaires presented to a sample audience, targeted by location e.g. a federal electorate. These are increasingly becoming automated and delivered by phone.

Reasons for polling

Benchmark polling – Predominantly used in-house to accurately gauge performance and favourability of the organisation or industry as a whole, as well as the importance and relevance of the industry to the target audience. Usually conducted over a broad sample e.g. 500 people in the suburbs of Sydney and 500 people in regional New South Wales.

Issue-based polling – Also known as ‘campaign’ polling, this type of polling is one of the most effective tactics in any advocacy campaign. It usually consists of a short set of questions with a highly targeted audience, designed to highlight the importance of (or opposition to) the issue at the centre of the advocacy campaign.

The key with this type of polling is to keep it contextually relevant. Make the outcome one that your advocacy targets, for example Government MPs, will pay attention to. If you’re advocating for an agricultural organisation over land clearing laws, conduct the polling in key marginal rural and regional electorates.

It’s also important to understand that with issue-based polling, the type of questions asked can heavily influence the result. Activist groups often use these ‘push polls’ to their advantage to get a desired result, for example asking ‘considering that coal harms puppies, would you support a new coal-fired power plant?’.

To make it even more contextually relevant to politicians, always include a voting intention question, specifically one that asks the respondent whether they would be more or less likely to vote for a local representative who supports or opposes the particular issue.

Polling can be effective for tracking how your organisation is performing as well as for pushing your issue with your target audience and decision makers. However, like most things in the world of professional advocacy, you need to match the right method with the desired outcome. By using these polling techniques, you can successfully enhance your advocacy.