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Benchmark #03: Focus Group Research
A “focus group” is a tool or method of social science research based on in-depth interviews of a range of people and the gathering of their opinions. The social scientist then analyzes this data to better understand society and its culture.
Before you can produce an effective ad, you need to understand your audience. As political scientists for the Campaign Ad Project, you will interview potential voters whose opinions will help you design your campaign ad more effectively. Your goal in these interviews is to determine
- how do voters from different demographic backgrounds feel about the issues that frame your proposition
- more importantly, why do your interviewees feel the way they do
- what information do voters lack to make an informed choice
- and most importantly, who is your target voter, that is, the voter who hasn’t made up her mind and therefore whom your ad can possibly sway to vote the way you want her to
- Each campaign ad team must conduct at least five interviews with voters from different demographic backgrounds: i.e. both men and women from various age groups and from different sides of the issue. Every member of your team must participate in at least one interview. It is recommended that your group conducts 10 interviews.
- You can conduct the interviews in person or over the phone. You must come to the interview prepared with questions on the issues, and most importantly, you must take careful notes on the responses. (Do an audio recording of the interview if you can.) Use the Focus Group Interview Form to guide your interview.
- To document the interview, fill out the Focus Group Interview Form and attach to it all notes you took during the interview. Your group must submit at least five of these forms with their notes on Monday, September 29.
Strategies for Success
- Start by telling your interviewee who you are, what school you go to, and the purpose of your project. Ask permission to conduct this interview, and if he says yes, assure him that you will keep his identity confidential.
- Try to interview a range of voters who will look at the issue from different, even opposing, angles. For example, if you were doing a ballot initiative proposing an increased tobacco tax, then you would be wise to interview a few smokers, a few merchants who sell tobacco, a few nurses or health practitioners (an interest group), and a few people who clearly don’t smoke.
- The voters you interview may not know much about the actual propositions (it is early in the process), but most voters have feelings about the larger issues that are raised by these propositions. Therefore, your job as a critical thinker is to identify the larger political issues that are raised by your particular ballot initiative, and then to develop open-opened questions that stimulate your interviewees to discuss their feelings on those issues. Don’t bring up the details of the proposition until the last half of the interview. The Focus Group Interview Form will guide you in this.
- Ultimately, the job of your campaign ad is to change voters’ minds, but that is not the purpose of your focus group interview. Before you can change minds, you need to find out where voters stand, what they know, and how you can later convince them to vote a certain way. Therefore, you don’t want to give them too much bias up front as to your pro/con position; you certainly don’t want to get into arguments with them. At this point, you are a social scientist gathering data; your job is to listen.
- Conduct the interview in pairs so there are two notetakers.
- Record audio of the interview if you can and your interviewee agrees to this.
- Have fun with this, keep it safe and appropriate, and be serious.