As the political polling industry incorporates more digital tools into its research methodologies, it will need to consider respondent fraud – something that researchers outside the industry see as a growing threat.

C&E recently sat down with Will Johnson, CEO of The Harris Poll, to get his thoughts on the future of survey research and the challenges the industry is currently facing.

Although his company no longer does direct political work – his pedigree is in the countryside, and Harris currently belongs to Mark Penn’s Stagwell Group. Plus, he faces many of the same challenges political pollsters face in getting accurate data for their clients in today’s environment.

C&E: Is poll design bias the reason public polls have missed the mark in recent cycles?

Johnson: It’s less about prejudice than about people locked into the old ways. And finally, being able to aggressively control all sorts of fraudulent and inauthentic responses.

C&E: Where do you see the survey research business model in the next five years?

Johnson: It’s all about speed and cost effectiveness and delivering a sleek dashboard to your buyer in real time. As you get more complicated and move to the higher end, it’s much more like a high-end advisory model than a survey research model. I think it’s less about, oh, we took this survey, and it’s more about, we have this practitioner who has a toolkit and a lot of different ways to measure both behavioral data inputs and examine more traditional data [inputs].

C&E: Do you see a time when the telephone survey disappears?

Johnson: I don’t think the phone is going away. When you make sure you really reach the right consumer and ask the right question [that may require] maybe even more phone searches in the future, especially when talking about hard-to-reach audiences. And when we think of fraud, [phones] help make sure that we really measure, one, a real person and two, that we come to them with a question that we are really trying to answer.

C&E: You mentioned fraud several times. What does it currently look like in survey research?

Johnson: It’s online. These are respondents that you know are not real. This refers to the value of the practitioner: there is a game of cat and mouse. Panel providers make sure they capture real people, and then scammers find ways to circumvent those checks.

C&E: Has fraud caused researchers to miss the mark in public inquiries?

Johnson: I think there might be a bit of that, but I think it has a lot more to do with reaching people where they are. I think there was a general complacency in the industry, sort of sticking to the old ways rather than prejudice.