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On Focus Groups, Elections, and Predictions


I think this is pretty good, but you mae a fundamental mistake. Acutally, qualitative data CAN be used to generalize to a larger population, but it cannot make STATISTICAL generalizations. And the reason is not really that the data is qualititative as much as it is that the sample size is so small. Image a VERY large scale survey (i.e., NOT semi-structured interviews), using a rigorously constructed sample, with a open response item. The data that comes back from that open responsen item would be — by definition — qualitative. But because the sample is large (and contructed to be represenative), you COULD generalize to the larger population, statistically. In fact, that is exactly why you would do that. Totally valid. So, if we can’t make statistical generalization (e.g., proportions of people who think X) to larger population, then what CAN we do? Well, we can use qualitative research to study potential mechanisms or the nature of processes and then generalize those processes or mechanism to the larger population. In fact, that’s the primary purpose of rigorous qualitative research. Darwin used qualitative data. He developed a theory about a process and a basic mechanism, and generalized that quite broadly. And it is one of the great scientific accomplishments in human history. Generalization. Based on qualitative data.

Alexander, I think your point is valid, but from my read, what Kinga is saying more to do with the notion that we can NOT use focus groups to generalize a political message to the wider audience. Where as we can take product that someone might use and get impressions and a decision if that person might buy a product in that moment as a legitimate method of market analysis, it is less likely that this method is working in our society today for political sensitivity and message definition. Mostly, as this method has been playing out over the past several decades on the political front to be somewhat helpful and useful, the general population is starting to get wise to this method. And as such, they might not be honest in such a group since they may be discovering the relationship to the political group that the person asking the questions might not have their best intentions in mind and people asking the questions are more interested in whether they have successfully manipulate the subject. The only real world example that I have to say as a data point that might prove this to be true would be the election of Donald Trump, all of the surveys and focus groups pointed to the other candidate as the winner. Those focus groups were wrong. Not in a small way, but in a much bigger way. The challenges we face today now is that the political class and the political consultants are and will be at a loss in the next several years to what will be most effective in manipulating the population. As such, to use focus groups to determine if your form of manipulation will work and guarantee as "WIN" politically is now in question. This was the point of this article, and form my perspective, this is BRILLIANT. Regards, Publius Federalist

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