Thursday, March 27, 2008

StrawVoter Launch Will Give Real Time Public Opinion

A very close friend of mine has recently launched the beta version of a new opinion tracking website that could revolutionize our ability to determine public opinion on any given issue. From the website (launched TODAY!):

StrawVoter is a non-partisan digital polling tool for people who can't wait to know how political opinion is aligning on a daily basis around the country. It's a grassroots experiment for making detailed polling data available to the average voter.

From the website's creator, Chatham denizen Matthew MacIver:

The creation of StrawVoter was driven by an admittedly self-serving idea and two untested assumptions.

The idea: create a tool that would let me see detailed, demographically rich poll data at key moments in this turbulent political season. A web-enabled polling tool that, in exchange for answers to a few simple demographic questions, would give every participant - every StrawVoter - a summary of all such data collected in each Congressional district, each State, across the nation.

Why? Because I can't easily and cheaply get this information elsewhere. Of, of course, we're all bombarded by poll results - but they're highly aggregated, rarely provided in consistent time-series form, focused primarily on the issue of the hour and absolutely opaque when it comes to methodology.

And they often become the news by virtue of the context in which they're presented. Private polling often turns political leadership into political followership and then is used to recursively reinforce public opinion. Public polls by Fox and CNN have to be interpreted with the appropriate spin-discount-rate (your mileage may vary) - thank goodness for a free press.

But I wanted more raw detail presented in a value-free wrapper. StrawVoter is the result. It's a non-partisan hobby site. I generate no revenue from it (although I may defray expenses with some Google ads.) I want good commentary to share with the StrawVoter community, but I won't post rants or candidate missives. I want to post special polling questions derived from good feedback based on the data that lands here.

Will it work? The idea will be proven or not based on two basic premises.

The first is that many, many Americans want this type of insight, too. I'm marketing this virally and pin great hopes on the exponential power of social networks. We'll see if that works out. I'll be posting volume figures as time goes on.

The second is that most Strawvoters won't want to game the system by registering multiple times or filing faulty demographics. No-one has satisfactorily solved digital polling authentication (or for that matter mail ballot authentication) and I personally doubt that anyone will anytime soon. So, no, we can't check you against your precinct roll.

But we did what we could. We've placed CAPTCHA devices (courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University) on registration and voting pages to slow down the people who have no lives and may want to laboriously register and vote again and again. And although virtually all alpha testers thusfar first wanted to make an avatar from their demographics, they also soon realized that the results they wanted to see would be jeopardized by their flights of fancy. And, finally, given a set of samples of even modest size, we have the Central Limit Theorem working to our advantage.
So that's the story. Vote often, but only as yourself. Give me some good polling fodder, too. I'll expand StrawVoter as results and comments come in.

Enjoy the site.

Mathew MacIver

So, there's only one thing to do - go register, send the link to everyone in your contacts list, and post it on your own blog!

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