The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. Vol 4 Issue 1   January 2008

Hello, and welcome to a brand new year!

Last month’s newsletter focused on Katie Couric, and in particular, her skill at effectively interviewing the presidential candidates.

This month, we continue with our presidential theme. Specifically, we take a look at debates, and from a research perspective, why some formats are more effective than others in gathering useful information from the candidates.

As always, please click here to send us your thoughts and comments.

Julie Brown

Mark Palmerino
Executive Vice President

A Better Kind of Presidential Debate

We’ve still got a long way to go until the presidential election in November, and as my uncle used to counsel the family each year, as we sat down for a big holiday meal, “The key to survival is to pace yourself.”

That said, I tossed his wisdom to the wind earlier this month, as I watched all four hours (in a row) of the January 5th, Republican and Democratic presidential debates. I know, it’s not the kind of thing that any rational human being would normally subject herself to, however I was drawn by the announced change to a more open format.

In previous debates, and with such a large field of candidates on both sides, things were very tightly structured: Equal time, equal questions and explicit rules that prevented the candidates from addressing one another directly.

The January 5th event was different. The list of invitees had narrowed (on the Democratic side, there were just four candidates present), and the format was altered to include — and in fact, encourage — less structure and more interaction. As a long time proponent of open-ended research, I was hoping for something new and different. For the most part, I was not disappointed.

Here’s what I witnessed…

  • Sharper questions. When John Edwards asks Hillary Clinton a question, it’s likely to be much more direct than when the same topic is raised by a moderator, who is working hard to appear impartial. Indeed, as Mike Huckabee recently observed, “Politics is a full contact sport.” The contact that occurs when opponents go head-to-head moves the discussion forward more quickly.
  • Better answers. Freed from the constraint of two-minute answers, and in response to often biting questions from their opponents, the candidates spoke in more depth and with more passion. They strayed from the highly polished sound bites and gave clearer, more specific answers.
  • A window into personality. The less formal structure of the debate revealed more about who the candidates are and how they behave. From responding to an opponent’s low blow, to jostling with the others on stage for control of the floor, the candidates showed the viewing audience a little bit more about the kind of people they were — above and beyond the issues themselves.

What’s all this got to do with good market research? Lots.

First, it’s another example of how open-ended questions and settings provide an environment for better, clearer, more in-depth information. Just as a highly constrained debate format makes it difficult for viewers to differentiate between the players, closed-ended surveys leave little room for uncovering the true point of view of respondents.

Second, it shines a light on the challenge inherent in gathering information in a group setting. And while a presidential debate may be an exaggerated example of toxic group dynamics, any time there’s a battle for airtime, or among competing points of view, the information gathered can be obscured. One-on-one interviews, by contrast, remove the group dynamic entirely, giving the interviewer a clearer path to the respondent’s point of view.

Third, it demonstrates the importance of a skilled moderator. A good moderator knows when to step in, when to probe deeper and when to sit on his or her hands. It’s not easy, particularly when big egos with lots at stake come together in a public forum. In research as well, the interviewer plays a critical role in bringing important information to the surface, as quickly, and with as much clarity, as possible.

In summary, good research — like a good debate — should be structured so that all participants get as much running room as possible. With a tendency towards better questions, better answers and a healthy dose of passion, open-ended formats get my vote!

— Julie

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Mixology (Putting research into practice)

In the November/December 2007 edition of CASRO Comments, Board Chair Eileen Campbell makes several excellent points regarding the way in which research ought to be conducted. Among them:

“…banish the term ‘respondent’… focus considerably more attention on the research experience from the perspective of people who choose to participate.”

We couldn’t agree more. “Respondent” suggests a passive reaction to a fixed set of questions. It ignores the give and take between interviewer and interviewee, and the need for creating an environment in which people feel that they are equal participants.

We can’t numb or confine participants… we need to engage them. That’s when they’ll share their true feelings, concerns, thoughts and insights… the holy grail of great research!


A Better Kind of Presidential Debate

Mixology (Putting research into practice)

Twist and Shout

About Us

CSR President Julie Brown will be attending The 2008 Conference on Marketing next month in Naples, Florida.

If you’re planning on attending as well, and want to share your thoughts on the presidential debates, how much better the weather is in Naples than in the Northeast, or anything else, track Julie down and she just may buy you a drink at the bar.

Click here to send Julie an e-mail and make plans ahead of time!

And, if you’re headed to the CASRO Panel Conference: Defining and Delivering Quality, in Miami next month, keep an eye out for CSR EVP Mark Palmerino. When he’s not checking up on the research use of online panels, Mark will also be treating fellow conference- goers to local libations.

“The wise man doesn’t give the right answers, he poses the right questions.”

— Claude Levi-Strauss

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About Us
The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. (CSR) is a research firm. We combine open-ended questioning with our proprietary technology to create quantifiable data.


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