Boom-time for pollsters that were spot on

NEW YORK • A handful of small public opinion polling companies that bucked consensus and accurately called the US presidential election for Mr Donald Trump are reporting being flooded with calls from investors and clients seeking their services.

Most pollsters wrongly forecast Mrs Hillary Clinton as leading Mr Trump ahead of Tuesday's election in the latest fiasco to hit the US$20 billion (S$28 billion) public opinion research industry, only months after it failed to predict the British vote to leave the European Union in June.

Among the few that got it right was a new industry player using a different method, South African firm Brandseye, which analyses social media posts.

Brandseye took an entirely different approach from traditional polling.

The data-miner pays people around the world to sift through social media for relevant posts, a process known as crowd-sourcing, and then uses a computer algorithm to rate consumer sentiment about products or politicians.

Its method pointed to a Trump victory. It also correctly called Britain's Brexit vote. "My phone has not stopped," chief executive and part-owner J.P. Kloppers said in a telephone interview on Thursday.

DEMAND FOR POLLING SERVICES

Elections come every couple of years, but there are companies and governments that need to understand every day and every week what's driving customer satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

MR J.P. KLOPPERS, CEO and part-owner of South African firm Brandseye, which predicted correctly the outcomes of both the US presidential election and the Brexit referendum.

He said venture capitalists have been calling about investing in the firm, and polling companies have inquired about its methods. He said the company was open to licensing its technology.

Existing clients include ride-sharing firm Uber, banks, telecommunications firms and some government agencies, he said. He declined to identify the governments. "Elections come every couple of years, but there are companies and governments that need to understand every day and every week what's driving customer satisfaction and dissatisfaction," Mr Kloppers said.

New methods, if successful, are of high interest to polling companies that are having difficulty reaching cellphone users or survey-weary Americans.

 

"The answer is ongoing research," said Professor Krista Jenkins, director of the PublicMind survey research centre at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. "It's basically digging in as an industry and comparing the findings from your traditional telephone polls to data that is collected online."

Traditional pollsters base their results on questions posed to randomly selected people, often in interviews conducted live over the telephone. Among other errors that pollsters made ahead of the US election, they almost universally miscalculated how turnout would be distributed among demographic groups.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2016, with the headline 'Boom-time for pollsters that were spot on'. Print Edition | Subscribe