Focus groups are effective at generating hypotheses and can be a valuable way to see your problem through the eyes of a targeted audience such as consumers, voters or citizens. Focus groups, however, are not an effective method to test hypotheses. Given the small sample sizes and the heavy influence that a few members can have on a discussion, generalizations about the larger populations from which participants are drawn can be misleading. Ideally, hypotheses generated during focus groups should be subjected to further quantitative tests.
What focus groups do very well is to suggest ways of thinking about research questions that are not obvious to the people who are closest to, and familiar with, the topic.
Despite the advent of new research platforms, telephone surveys remain the first choice when answering many types of research questions. The advantages of fast turn-around times, reasonable costs, and superior sampling designs optimize the cost/benefit ratio for many clients.
As many of its technical and methodological problems have been solved, online research has come of age. Fast, cost-effective, and an excellent method for accommodating visual stimuli, online surveys are a natural partner with conjoint analysis.
Conjoint analysis does more than measure opinions of voters or consumers, it uses choice-modeling to measure the relative importance of attributes. Dr. Smith of SmithJohnson Research was among the pioneers in the application of conjoint technology political research.
For a long time the state of the art in survey reports has been top lines, a stack of crosstabs, a PowerPoint, and some text; all static documents. The state of the art in opinion research is about to change with SmithJohnson’s proprietary software. We call it Porpoise.©
Porpoise© exploits contemporary technology to provide interactive and on-demand analysis of opinion data. End users of the research can ask and answer questions about the data on their own terms as needs arise. Porpoise has only one screen, broken into four parts. This means that everything Porpoise does remains in front of the user the entire time. Users don’t have to navigate through the program. Research questions are answered by just clicking a tab and a couple of buttons.
The interface duplicates the way people analyze opinion data. People tend to look at one question at a time, then compare the results to something else. Porpoise provides an unlimited array of “something else’s”. Besides interactivity, Porpoise’s two key innovations are its interpretive indices and better analysis of question blocks.
One display tool that SmithJohnson Research uses is called an interpretive index. The purpose of this index is to reduce complicated tables from across a number of parallel questions or demographic variables to a relatively simple index.
In the early years of political polling, an individual’s voting history was found to be a good indicator of their likelihood to vote in a future election. Today, modern pollsters still use voter history, but only as one component of much more complex “voter propensity indices.” These advanced indices consistently outperform earlier vote-history models in predicting an individual voter’s actual future behavior.
One of the most advanced indices, recalibrated after each election, is the SmithJohnson Propensity Index (SPI).