Late last week, Politico reported that the FCC is considering allowing phone companies to offer a service that blocks phone calls made by an automatic dialer. While they are primarily targeting telemarketing phone calls, this regulation would be catastrophic to the political polling industry and would change the modern political campaign.
While Public Opinion Strategies does not rely on recorded voice messages or “robocalls” for its polling work, its partner phone centers (who solely do survey research and no telemarketing) still use an autodialer to complete its polling calls. However, unlike telemarketing companies, political phone center automatic dialers are properly calibrated to ensure that only the number of necessary outgoing calls are made for each poll.
There is already a regulation that prevents automatic dialers from being used when dialing cell phones. Because of this, cell phone dialing (which pollsters are doing more and more of each election cycle) is approximately twice as expensive as dialing regular landline phones. Interviewers are required to hand dial each number, significantly increasing the labor hours needs to complete a phone call. If this proposal moves forward and phone companies are able to block automatic dialers, political survey research costs will become even more expensive as all calls will need to be dialed by hand.
Not only will political polling be impacted, but other typical political activities will also become impossible. Campaigns will no longer be able to send recorded campaign messages to voters, and candidates and political office holders will not be able to hold their popular tele-town halls.
The market research industry has moved away from conducting phone polls over the last decade by substituting phone research with online polling. However, as online survey panels are typically opt-in (meaning respondents have to sign-up to receive surveys), it creates a barrier in producing a proper random sample that survey research strive for in their research. And, perhaps more importantly, for geographies under the national and state level (Congressional and state legislative districts, for example), there are not enough e-mail records available in order to complete an online poll – these polls must be conducted over the phone.
If the FCC moves forward and enacts this legislation without an exception for political polling and other political activities, the political campaign landscape will change dramatically. Campaigns big and small will need to find new ways to make the tens of thousands of phone calls they make during the course of a campaign, as the ability to reach voters will become even more difficult.