Posted in Behind the News

An ‘impactful, buzzy set of political polling’

, by Lauren Easton

A staff memo by Vice President-International News John Daniszewski describes how AP’s news survey specialist developed original, impactful polling on the presidential candidates whose findings earlier this month “reset the political news agenda”:

In an election season awash in poll data, most of it horse-race ephemera, AP News Survey Specialist Emily Swanson crafted a series of questions about the 2016 presidential elections that truly stood out. The AP-GfK poll she designed found most notably that Donald Trump is a remarkably unpopular candidate for president, with an unprecedented 7 in 10 Americans holding an unfavorable opinion of him and a clear majority saying they will not vote for him in a general election. While Hillary Clinton may be a historically unpopular option, as Swanson's poll also found, she is still more electable than Trump. Swanson’s stories, written in combination with White House correspondent Julie Pace, homed in on responses to granular questions that compared Trump with Clinton. They found Americans trust Clinton more than Trump -- even on his signature issue of making America great. In the competitive world of presidential election surveys, Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee said, Swanson’s work was “the most impactful, buzzy set of polling we’ve had in literally years.” It is the Beat of the Week. The range and depth of the poll’s questions enabled the strong stories, and its timing also helped. “Although Trump has had high unfavorable ratings for a while now, our poll came at a time when he’s reaching new depths of unpopularity,” Swanson noted.
AP News Survey Specialist Emily Swanson. (AP Photo)
Some questions sought nuances of opinion on each candidate. For instance, Swanson said, “We asked whether a variety of words described each candidate and found half or more Americans said words like honest, civil, likable, compassionate and even competent did not describe Trump even slightly well.” Rather than just ask which candidate represents their opinions, the survey, crafted in consultation with AP Political Editor David Scott, gave a battery of 12 specific opinions, Swanson said, adding, “David gets the credit for adding `making America great’ to that.” The creative questioning provided material for multiple candidate-focused stories -- not just on Trump and Clinton, but also on Sen. Bernie Sanders, who turned out looking pretty good to Americans in comparison to the other candidates. Scott said, “Emily and I take a lot of pride in that we don’t do horse race” -- the simple, who’s-ahead-now surveys that roll out constantly through election season, “contributing to the high level of noise in the polling world.” Readers want more, the AP pollsters believe, and the play for Swanson and Pace’s all-formats stories supports that notion. The first story from the poll led newscasts, got tremendous online display and was No.1 for the week on AP Mobile. Pace appeared on MSNBC’s influential “Morning Joe” chat show twice to talk about the results, which became the talk of politics. “To get this type of impact with an AP poll -- especially when AP does so much less political polling than some other news organizations -- is nothing short of rare and astonishing,” Buzbee said. For designing an original, important survey that reset the political news agenda, Swanson wins this week’s prize.