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ARG!

Pollster.com has a good discussion about the American Research Group (ARG). One thing I like to know about a pollster is this: what is its business model? In most cases, the answer is highly apparent. SurveyUSA uses the licensing model: it conducts polls on behalf of local news outfits, and so accurate results are going to help it to generate repeat business. Rasmussen uses a subscription model: if you like its results, it has a Premium service, which will allow you to see the polls earlier and get more details on them. Again, that model isn’t going to work unless its results are reasonably accurate; nobody is going to be interested in the cross-tabs unless the topline results are pretty good. Then, of course, there are the academic and non-profit pollsters like Quinnipiac; they don’t have a profit motive per se, but they’re usually run by smart people, and accurate results will help to convey prestige upon the institution.

But what is ARG’s business model? What are they trying to sell? Actually, it’s anything but obvious; if I were a potential client of ARG’s, I would learn very little about them from their website. But apparently, much of their business involves sort of new-agey marketing services to advertising clients:

The American Research Group offers a different approach to understanding consumer behavior that can increase the effectiveness of marketing and advertising efforts.

We measure how consumers’ out-of-conscious processing systems react and respond to the signals they receive. Not surprisingly, we don’t start by asking consumers for the answers. Instead, we measure very reliable, valid, and sensitive signals generated by their out-of-conscious processing systems before learning consumers’ conscious responses.

We then make specific recommendations to improve the signals so consumers will not only attend to, but also respond to, those signals.

Now, mind you, this is a separate business line; it’s hopefully not how ARG conducts its polls! But the point is that this line of business, which so far as I can tell is the way that ARG makes most of its revenue, has nothing to do with the polling business, nor is it even particularly quantitative. So ARG might have less incentive than other pollsters to produce accurate results.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

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