If you asked her 10 to 15 years ago, Democratic pollster Margie Omero would’ve told you Internet polling was on track to be the norm by the 2012 election cycle. But today pollsters are still working to figure out just how to incorporate the Web into their survey research.

During a Friday morning discussion on the 2012 elections at C&E’s Reed Awards seminar, Omero said the Internet is currently more useful when message testing during primaries or polling particular harder-to-reach populations.

Glen Bolger, Republican pollster and partner at Public Opinion Strategies, agreed noting that cellphones dominated much of the polling conversation this past cycle.  

“The blended methodology that I thought would be more en vogue is not, partly because it is getting easier to acquire cell phone samples to include as part of your master blend methodology as opposed to the Internet,” Bolger said. “The Internet is still too white, too wealthy, too highly educated. We all think that everybody’s on the Internet because everybody we know is on the Internet, except that’s not actually true.”

In actuality, the Internet is used for polling more often by associations and corporations, Bolger said, given its ability to target specialized audiences. But while the Internet can’t yet poll the national electorate effectively, that doesn’t mean it won’t be viable in the future.

Bolger, who polled for Restore Our Future and American Crossroads in 2012, said 20 percent of the sample in his surveys was cellphone-only—a number he said turned out to not be large enough. In 2014, Bolger said it will need to be 30 percent of the sample and even higher in 2016. 

In state and local races, Omero said, it’s becoming easier to make the case for campaigns to spend the extra money to include cellphones in their sample.

“In 2010, it was really tough to make that sell for cellphone-only,” she said. “I don’t find that anymore. Even smaller campaigns are recognizing how important it is.”
Other key lessons from 2012, according to Bolger: campaigns need to be polling until the very end of the race, and Republicans need to ensure they interview enough Hispanic voters.

While the number of minority and youth voters has historically dropped by a third in off-year elections, Bolger expects Democrats to work hard to energize those demographics in 2014. Republicans left more votes on the table in 2012, he said, and they can’t afford to do it again.

“Our definition of grassroots is robocalls,” Bolger lamented. “[The Democrats’] definition of grassroots is neighbor-to-neighbor contact.”