Polling more valuable on issues than campaigns, says UNF’s Mike Binder

'If people aren’t responding, we’re never going to know.'

Polling, in the minds of the public, lies somewhere between a hard science and alchemy. Mike Binder prefers the phrase “rusty butter knife” to describe the process of quantifying public opinion, a process that’s a little afield from what people want, more of an X-ACTO knife.

But horserace projections aren’t where polling is the most valuable.

“The real value in political polling is the ability for regular, everyday people who happen to (respond), the real power is their ability to get heard on policy issues that elected officials aren’t going to hear from their inner circle,” said Binder, Director of the Public Opinion Research Lab (PORL) at the University of North Florida (UNF). He spoke at the latest meeting of the Cuppa Jax civic discussion group.

It’s the campaign projections that get the attention, though. A new UNF poll, released the same morning as Binder’s remarks, shows commanding leads for Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

Sometimes polls fall short, and Binder admitted as much — “we (crapped) the bed” — regarding UNF polling on the Democratic gubernatorial Primary. That August poll showed a 4-point lead for Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, while other polls, including St. Pete Polls, put eventual Democratic nominee Charlie Crist at a 20-point lead or more.

The PORL tried to do too much too soon, which resulted in the bad numbers, Binder said.

“I think policy stuff matters too, so we were polling on policy issues,” Binder said. “We were polling statewide on policy issues. We had a subsample of registered Democrats who were likely to vote in the Primary — the problem was we cast a really big net for statewide stuff.”

They also did an online poll, which included emailing people. That sort of polling has a different methodology than phone polling.

“The problem with our poll was, A) we included too many people who were not likely to vote, and B) that online methodology polling heavily with Nikki Fried supporters,” Binder said. “So, her supporters tended to be much more in the online world. We didn’t have enough old people, we didn’t have enough Black people. Those were heavily supportive of Charlie Crist in the Primary.” 

Of course, what makes polls work is people responding to them. That’s on a significant decline. Polling should catch demographic shifts, like Hispanic voters trending Republican, he noted.

“If people aren’t responding, we’re never going to know,” Binder said of opinion shifts. “That’s the real problem that our industry faces, is disproportionate (non-responsiveness).” 

UNF is working on polling with plans to release Duval County numbers Monday, looking at the campaigns for Jacksonville Sheriff, Florida’s 4th Congressional District and what Binder calls a way-too-early glance at the Jacksonville mayoral race.

Wes Wolfe

Wes Wolfe is a reporter who's worked for newspapers across the South, winning press association awards for his work in Georgia and the Carolinas. He lives in Jacksonville and previously covered state politics, environmental issues and courts for the News-Leader in Fernandina Beach. You can reach Wes at [email protected] and @WesWolfeFP. Facebook: facebook.com/wes.wolfe

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