What is a Dial Test? How is it conducted? How do I read or interrupt a dial test?

A Dial Test is research that seeks to discover how a group, such as likely voters, react favorably or unfavorably to what they are hearing or seeing in real time from a candidate running for public office.

SoonerPoll.com recruits likely voters, selected at random from the across the state, to participate. Participants watch campaign television commercials, candidate forums or debates from their computer in their home and rate how they are feeling about what they are seeing and hearing from the candidates using their keyboard.

The system records their reactions in real time and presents the aggregated results over the video.  The righthand side of the screen presents the results in real time and then trend across the screen moving right to left.

The horizonal axis of the overlaid chart of data is time. The vertical axis is the approval or favorable of the response on a 100-scale.  The data may be presented with a zoomed in feature where the top and bottom numbers will be the outer bounds of the aggregated results.

Participants are instructed and reminded to continue rating what they are seeing and hearing during the test using the keys on their keyboard to register their favorable or unfavorable response. The middle of the scale, at 50, is considered neutral or no opinion, with 51 to 100 as favorable responses and 49 to 0 as unfavorable responses.

Participants answer a few questions before the dial testing begins in order to later classify likely voters by political party, gender, age, geographical location or other groupings of interest.

For SoonerPoll’s dial testing, REPUBLICANS are presented in red, DEMOCRATS in blue, INDEPENDENTS in yellow, WOMEN in pink, MEN in orange, RURAL VOTERS in dark green, and VOTERS OVER 65 years of age in purple. Some of the group lines may be left off of the dial test video in order to focus the most attention on the most important or relevant dial test results.

To read the dial test in real time, watch the right side of the video screen as the video plays. Note the movement and the amount of movement along the vertical scale as the candidates are speaking.

Some lines (groupings) may move quicker than others or seem to move more rapidly up and down than other lines. This is typically due to low sample size of the group during the test. This may also be by design as Independents, for example, in Oklahoma only make up about 6-8 percent of the likely voter population, whereas Republicans are 51 percent and Democrats are 43 percent (as of the 2018 general election). Like polling, the higher the sample size, the more stable the aggregated results will be.

Dial-testing is about 30 years old, the outgrowth of earlier focus-grouping techniques where a moderator would show a brief clip and ask participants to rate a particular phrase on a numeric scale. Dial Tests have been used to evaluate, improve, and fine-tune everything from lawyers’ arguments to commercials for at least two decades. In politics, dial-testing has been used at least since the early 1990s to find words and phrases that resonate with voters.