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A decade of asking readers what they think

On Oct. 13, 2006, the Rochester Business Journal’s weekly edition contained the results of a poll that posed this question to readers: “Do you think the congressional page scandal will hurt Rep. Thomas Reynolds’ bid for re-election?”

What’s worth noting is not the results of the poll—56 percent of readers thought the scandal would seriously harm his re-election bid. I imagine many of you are having a hard time recalling exactly what the scandal was all about. I did.

Rather, it’s the fact that question launched the RBJ Daily Snap Poll. Last month marked the completion of a decade of weekly reader surveys, and the Snap Poll is still going strong. Take this week’s poll on the presidential election; nearly 1,200 readers participated and dozens submitted comments.

We were confident that certain topics would generate a strong reader response. In December 2005, a poll on what mayor-elect Robert Duffy should do with the struggling Lake Ontario fast ferry drew 1,300 responses. But could reader interest be sustained week after week?

To be honest, the weekly Snap Poll has been more popular than we ever imagined. It turns out that businesspeople have strong opinions and are willing to voice them; you simply need to ask.

What are some of the topics that have triggered the biggest responses? The fast ferry, for sure. As that saga played out, we conducted several polls—and all drew large numbers of respondents. Others include a December 2009 poll on Rochester’s CEO of the decade and one on the NY SAFE Act in January 2014. Presidential election polls such as this week’s also have been consistently popular.

Many polls have sparked a lot of conversation around town and, in a few cases, criticism. One that comes to mind: a poll on Mayor Lovely Warren’s first-year performance. Some thought the result—87 percent disapproved—suggested bias on our part or at least flawed polling methodology.

In truth, we work extremely hard to ensure that the Snap Polls have no slant whatsoever. And we believe the methodology used has proven to be very credible. I’ve written about this before, but it’s worth repeating:

The Snap Poll has a clearly defined survey population. Subscribers to the RBJ Daily Report email and print edition subscribers for whom we have email addresses are eligible to take part. The size of the survey population varies, as readers opt in or opt out of the poll database, but it now averages around 17,500.
A link to each week’s poll is delivered by email to eligible RBJ readers. The results are tabulated using a software application that employs trackable links. This allows us to identify and filter out responses stemming from a poll respondent forwarding the survey link to one or more nonreaders. What’s more, the trackable links make it possible for us to exclude multiple responses from a single respondent. (Believe me, over the years this safeguard has been tested. In one case, the Rochester teachers union inflated the responses to nearly 3,000; all but 800 were “stuffers” that we filtered out when reporting the results.)
Given the defined survey population, we can calculate a margin of error. Using a standard confidence level of 95 percent, the margin of error typically is between plus/minus 2 percent and plus/minus 4 percent.
Respondents are encouraged to submit comments, but because we want an open and responsible debate of issues, we do not publish unsigned comments.

We’ve never claimed that Snap Poll results accurately reflect the views of the entire community. Instead, we believe they credibly reflect the thinking of our readers—a diverse group of individuals representing businesses of all sizes, along with nonprofits and the public sector—and are a pretty good proxy for the region’s business community.

After doing this for 10 years, I’m able to predict the outcome of many polls with reasonable accuracy. But not infrequently there are surprises. One example: When we did a poll on same-sex marriage in 2011, six weeks before the state Marriage Equality Act was enacted, 57 percent of respondents supported it—a result that was almost identical to a poll of all New Yorkers. Given the generally more conservative views of our readers, I had not expected this.

And to me, that’s really the value of the Snap Poll. Rather than guess what members of the business community think on important issues, let them be heard.

If you have not done so already, you can take part in the weekly Snap Poll simply by signing up for the Daily Report email at staging.rbj.net/dailyreport.

11/4/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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