July 24, 2024
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Dial In to Public Opinion

Do you want to know what new movie oth­er parents think your child may like best? Are you curious as to what New Jerseyans think about a recent policy decision by Governor Chris Christie? Do you need feedback on any­thing at all?

LiveDial is a social polling app for smart­phones that allows users to voice their opin­ions by responding to surveys on any num­ber of topics. Survey creators can then analyze those opinions to identify important trends and other actionable information. CEO Yali El­kin thought of the idea during the 2012 pres­idential debates while watching news stations use focus groups to project public opinion.

“We just asked ourselves a simple question: What if you could ask everyone? If you could have that right away, it would be enormously powerful,” Elkin said. “It would be shrinking the zone of spin and increasing the amount of real, hard data.”

Elkin compared what his company does to Michelangelo’s response when asked about how he sculpted. The Renaissance master said that the art was already there; he just had to chisel away the excess material to free it. Sim­ilarly, all the data on anything and everything already exists, but, according to Elkin, before the creation of LiveDial, there was never a sim­ple, effective, and cost-efficient way to access it.

LiveDial allows users to create an anony­mous profile that they can use both to com­pose and respond to surveys. The app begins with this basic profile of users when they cre­ate their accounts, and that profile grows with each survey completed. LiveDial stores sur­vey responses, which are compiled over time, allowing for the analysis of responses to un­derstand opinion and sentiment more com­prehensively. Participants are never asked for identifying personal information, such as their name or date of birth (besides their year of birth, only gender, marital status and ZIP code are required, allowing for a “very real veil of an­onymity”).

Having a wide range of information can be very important in producing hard data. “Who you are as the aggregate of the opin­ions you’ve voiced becomes increasingly inter­esting to people,” Elkin said, explaining that the better any organization or venue knows its cus­tomers, the better it can tailor its products and services to their liking.

Someone who could have used a tool like this is House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, El­kin said. An internal poll from the Cantor cam­paign showed him leading by 34 points over his opponent, in the days before the election. But he lost by twelve points—a swing of 46 points that shocked most observers.

“There’s no way this should happen,” Elkin said. “Cantor’s campaign just had no idea what his constituents thought of him,” and that’s a failure “on an organizational level.”

On the other hand, at least one national campaign is using LiveDial in swing states to “get the lay of the land, to get a more compre­hensive understanding of where on the spec­trum, issue-by-issue, the voters stand.”

While campaign managers care about the attitudes and opinions of a large range of peo­ple, some survey creators care about the opin­ions of people most like them. For instance, a friend of Elkin’s posted on Facebook asking for opinions on which of two cars he should lease. This individual had approximately 600 friends on Facebook, but didn’t need (or want) all of their opinions. He was most interested in the friends most like him: the married fathers who lived in his area and faced the same type of weather, roads, and traffic as he did.

Corporations, non-profit groups, and in­dividuals have been able to ask and answer questions like this since the app launched ear­lier this year. To entice individuals to partici­pate, respondents earn points per survey com­pleted. LiveDial holds periodic drawings for gift cards to a variety of retailers; individuals with more points have a greater likelihood of hav­ing their username drawn for a win.

Surveys can be open to everyone, or limit­ed to certain groups. For example, if a school principal wants to gauge the student body’s opinion on a particular issue, he or she can “push out questions by lunchtime and have 1,000 responses by dinnertime.” This dynam­ic allows survey creators to “transform their re­lationship with their respective bases from a monologue into more of a conversation,” El­kin said. “People are much more likely to be en­gaged that way.” Anyone who creates a survey can then crunch the numbers themselves, or use the website’s built-in analytics to see how the responses break down on a variety of de­mographic and psychographic categories.

Some surveys are created by LiveDial be­cause Elkin is personally curious to know peo­ple’s opinions on current events. After a CNN news anchor wrote about a trip to Colorado with her family where she enjoyed recreation­al marijuana with her husband while their chil­dren were sleeping, Elkin turned to the public. He found that the preponderance of opinion was that these parents were wrong to act as they had with their children nearby, but that marijuana laws should, in fact, be liberalized.

Another survey he published was based on an earlier survey commissioned by PoliceOne among law enforcement officers on the sub­ject of gun violence. It found that the majori­ty of law enforcement officers overwhelming­ly favored liberalizing gun control laws, and the LiveDial respondents echoed that sentiment. Surveys like these that deal with current is­sues allow LiveDial to fulfill one of its goals: “We don’t want to be part of the conversation; we want to be where the conversation takes place.”

By Aliza Chasan

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