Voters are used to seeing frequently updated polling results during election season every year on television, on the Internet and in newspapers. Most of those election polls, though, are taken only to gauge voter support for candidates in large races like campaigns for governor, senator and Congress.
If you’re a candidate in a local election race for city council, mayor and even county commissioner, don’t expect to see any polls for your race unless you plan on hiring a professional polling company yourself. Most local newspapers don’t have the interest or the resources to conduct polling, and well-known political polling firms don’t usually poll races unless they stoke national interest.
The only poll results you are likely to see in your local political campaign will be the results that are tallied by the Board of Elections on voting day. I’ve been asked by many local candidates about the best way to conduct amateur polling to get a feel for which candidate has momentum, and I’ll share a few pointers with you.
First of all, I suggest that you drop the idea of conducting your own private, unscientific election polling. Even if there were a way to do it yourself, it would likely take an enormous amount of effort on your part and from volunteers. As a local candidate, you don’t need to be spending your time doing anything but campaigning.
Ironically, taking the time to conduct your own local election poll could end up losing the race for you.
Secondly, if you have the extra campaign funds to pay for a professional firm to do polling for you, I highly suggest that you use that money for more targeted direct mail, instead. Election polling done by experienced companies can cost quite a bit of money, and I can’t think of any reason why a candidate in a local race would want to drop so much cash on something that isn’t going to help them get a single vote.
In congressional, statewide and national races, election polling doesn’t just let a campaign know where they stand with the voters; it also supplies them with data that can be spun to showcase their numbers in a good light for the public. Even if a candidate is behind in the polls, a significant gain over the last results can show growing momentum. And polls showing that a candidate is ahead can be publicized to rally supporters and discourage contenders.
Even if you could somehow get your hands on accurate polling for your local election, the data simply wouldn’t be as useful to you as it is to a candidate in a larger race. Putting out a press release bragging about the fact that you are five points ahead of your challenger would probably seem downright strange to voters who aren’t used to seeing those kind of tactics in a small, hometown race.
Having said all of that, though, there are a few methods that you can use to get a general feel for how well your campaign is going without doing actual polling.
The first is your door-to-door neighborhood canvassing efforts. If you really are getting out into the neighborhoods every day, knocking on doors and meeting voters, then you’re going to get a pretty good feel for how people feel about you. If you start to realize that every person you meet has heard your name and has a generally good feeling about you, then the odds are that you’re doing pretty well.
Additionally, you’ll be able to do some unscientific polling of your own if you make regular nightly phone calls to your targeted list of likely voter households. The greeting that you receive from voters who you have never met, and their reaction when they hear your name, will help you get a feel for how your campaign is doing.
I know that these methods are far from exact and will never let you know for sure how you’re going to perform on election night . . . but to tell you the truth, in many ways it’s a good thing that local candidates can’t do scientific polling in their races.
Why? Because it makes you work harder. Running a campaign like you’re ten points behind–right up until the end–is a great way to motivate yourself to outwork your opponent. Seeing an election poll showing that you are a few points ahead of your challenger, while encouraging, can also have a bad side effect: it can make you rest on your laurels and take victory for granted.