What’s the difference between a survey and a poll? As we enter the political season, groups are conducting research weekly in an attempt to measure public opinion, an ever moving target.
At the basic level both surveys and polls are designed to measure attitudes, awareness and perception. Public opinion polls are often conducted by third parties such as media (e.g. CNN Poll or the Los Angeles Times Poll) or research organizations such as the Pew Trust. In general these polls are concerned with public sentiment around key issues such as public spending for the military or thoughts around political candidates. Often political parties themselves will sponsor these polls in order to give their candidates market intelligence. They employ the same quantitative methods as traditional market research in order to allow for generalization to the broader market.
Surveys are not much different. They typically are focused more around understanding the market for products, services, or ideas in the case of non-profits. Sponsors of this type of research include companies, non-profit organizations or governmental entities with the goal of gaining consumer insight and using that insight for improving delivery of said products and services. Typical surveys include those designed for measuring customer loyalty,
A hybrid which is becoming increasingly popular is the one-question poll. These are frequently used in the context of social media. LinkedIn for example allows users to ask a quick poll. Online polls in this context are open to all users, therefore the ability to generalize to specific markets is limited as demographic and usage data are not always available. The power of this format is their ease of implementation. They can be deployed in a few minutes and are useful for obtaining a ‘quick read’. If you have a series of questions that can be deployed individually then you can build up a knowledge base over time.
These types of research are two sides of the same coin and should be subjected to the same level of scrutiny.