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Not just an election poll: Director of the Institute of Political Science Cheng-Shan Liu established online opinion poll platform Smile Poll

(Report by student journalist) Director of the Institute of Political Science Cheng-Shan Liu established Smile Poll, an online opinion poll platform, and proved that different, non-quantitative approach to polling is possible. It is the only polling organization in Taiwan to conduct asynchronous in-depth surveys with limited resources. The platform has already over 10,000 registered members and each questionnaire needs to be completed by at least 1,000 respondents. Professor Liu said that the platform provides comprehensive, transparent information, and tries to ask the right questions. With his professional team, he hopes to redefine and innovate polling.

Every month, there are three to four new questionnaires on the Smile Poll platform. Subsequently, the platform issues reports analyzing the results of the survey to share with the members. Professor Liu said that traditional opinion surveys/polls are imperfect as the respondents often have incomplete knowledge of the topic, and their purpose is very limited (most of them are customer satisfaction surveys, public policy surveys, or election polls). This causes the information to be withheld and the results easily becoming a tool for support of a certain standpoint. A traditional questionnaire usually only has yes-no questions, which can only confirm if the respondent supports a certain candidate or not, and do not provide in-depth information. The questionnaires of Smile Poll go beyond the simple: they include qualitative questions for the respondents to freely express their opinions. For example, the questionnaire on the epidemic asked the respondent whether he/she supports the ban on overseas travel for medical personnel - there was no ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to choose but instead, the respondent was asked to express his/her opinion freely. In this way, Smile Poll does not need to delegate any professional interviewer to conduct a survey with the respondent to obtain more in-depth information. Professor Liu said it is still something unusual in Taiwan to conduct this type of asynchronous in-depth survey with limited resources.

He said that the strength of Smile Poll is the innovative use of different question models and precise way of asking questions to keep the response rate within the industry standards. For example, more than 200 respondents wrote a short story about the relationship with their mother as a response to one of the questions of last year’s questionnaire for Mother’s Day. Professor Liu said that the secret to making the respondents want to fill in the questionnaire is ‘trust’. Eight years ago, the team got together to work in an equitable, fair, and transparent way, and it has stuck to its non-profit principle. In this way, the Smile Poll platform gained the trust and had the respondents speak their true voice.

These survey results were not easy to obtain and are of high academic value. For many years, Professor Liu together with the team of National Chengchi University has been researching the elections and democratization in Taiwan, with the mission to share the results with the members, academia, media, and the public to promote a deeper understanding of different groups’ values and intergenerational dialogue and nurture a group of respondents willing to take a long-term interest in public issues. In recent years, the team further collaborated with the government to turn the qualitative surveys and analytical investigative tools into a reference for policy design.

To evoke people’s interest and encourage them to participate, the topics of the surveys by Smile Poll respond to current events. Professor Liu and 8 members of the teamwork intensively every week to ensure a high response rate and accuracy. Professor Liu has devoted many years to the teaching and research of political science methodology; he established the Smile Poll platform for the students to practice, learn to ask the right questions and come to the right conclusions, and teach them to implement social science research results in planning and analysis. These abilities will come in handy after graduation, said Professor Liu.

Smile Poll is an online polling platform and most of its respondents are young or middle-aged. Can the results be considered representative, then? Professor Liu said that expressing concerns about the survey methods is a good thing, proving one’s ability to differentiate accurate information. He also mentioned that online surveys can help explore academic questions, investigate respondents’ standpoint, and become an experimental platform to validate academic hypotheses. Every report by Smile Poll exposes the characteristics of the samples in a detailed and transparent way. The reports warn the readers not to treat the results as absolute, as online opinion polls cannot be representative of the whole society. Thus, although they cannot be considered fully representative, Smile Poll results have significant value and contribution to the academic circles. By contrast, some media stations make generalizations based on the opinions of a small number of respondents of online surveys, while some opinion polling stations produce biased results by asking suggestive questions. These common practices need to be resolved by intellectuals.

“We cannot stand and wait for the world to change for us, we need to take action”, Professor Liu said. He said that his mission is to do what he believes is right and make the collected data available for everybody to audit. He thanked the Ministry of Science and Technology and the University for support and the team members for their efforts, which are more and more visible in the society. He emphasized that even though the possibilities of the Smile Poll team are limited, and there is still room for improvement, in the future he will keep on leading the team to work in line with the vision and standards of Taiwan. He hopes that one day “the black box will be read” and that the opinion polling environment in Taiwan will evolve thanks to the impulse of Smile Poll.

(Edited by Public Affairs Division)


If you want to know more, participate in surveys, or support the concept of Smile Poll, please find more information on:
www.smilepoll.tw (Chinese version only)
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