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Hamza Jaleel
Hamza Jaleel | Senior Research Manager, Civis Analytics

Over the past few years, I’ve been fortunate to speak to leaders at nonprofits and social good organizations — individuals with a relentless drive to shed light on important issues and create meaningful change. Oftentimes, these organizations face an uphill battle, operating in the dark without concrete data to guide their efforts or help them understand how the public feels about their mission.  

Harnessing relevant, robust, and recent survey data about your advocacy campaign can make a world of difference in understanding who you should be talking to, and how far you have to go. The team at Civis Analytics has helped many organizations identify and reach the audiences that matter; here’s how we can help your organization, too.

How survey insights shed light on your mission

While polls have traditionally played an integral role in campaign decisions about where a candidate stands in the race, the advancement of survey science means that organizations and social causes outside of the arena of electoral politics can reap enormous benefits from rigorous applications of these same methods. In fact, there’s strong evidence that issue polling is more accurate than horse-race polling in the leadup to elections.

And while we spend much of our time supporting political campaigns concerned with specific Election Day outcomes, Civis also works year round with nonprofit and advocacy organizations focused on specific legislation, ballot initiatives, or policy debates. Our team has been able to use these strategies to help a number of organizations, including those focused on racial justice, climate change, and public health, providing them with actionable insights into how Americans feel about these issues. 

Scale, speed, and science

Our national pulse surveys allow us to speak to thousands of Americans on a weekly basis, and we use quotas, weighting, and sophisticated data pipelines to distill large volumes of data into an actionable pulse check on the American public. The advantages of these national pulse tracking surveys are numerous:

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The scale at which Civis operates these national surveys means that we can give insights into smaller, harder-to-study groups of Americans, who are often overlooked by one-off polls which might operate in a vacuum. These tools can help us understand whether they are convinced or persuadable on a particular issue — or how a certain experience has affected their daily lives.

  • When hate crimes against AAPI communities soared during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to use data we collected from the beginning of the pandemic from thousands of Asian American and Pacific Islander respondents answering questions about discrimination to help the public better understand the magnitude of this problem.

The speed at which we operate means that these surveys can respond almost instantaneously to real-world events. While others may take weeks or even months to draft and edit questions, or decide on new questions of methodology and sampling, Civis launches multiple national tracking surveys each week, with a highly efficient pipeline and semi-automated process giving us the ability to poll on issues with only a few days’ notice.

  • For example, mere days after Texas passed a nearly universal ban on abortions, we were able to equip advocacy organizations fighting for these constitutionally-protected rights with pro bono survey insights.

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The data we collect is actionable because we are able to take our survey data and use it to train predictive models, then score these models on large datasets meant to be representative of the U.S. population. This allows us to draw powerful insights about millions of Americans, and gives us a unique, data-driven advantage over traditional pollsters who have trouble drawing conclusions about people who live in parts of the country which are sparsely populated, hard to reach, or traditionally underrepresented by pollsters.

  • This is the technology powering the Civis Vaccine Hesitancy Map, which shows how vaccine hesitancy varies across each of America’s 3,000+ counties, creating a comprehensive and interactive representation of data that’s proven vital in our fight against COVID-19.

I feel very fortunate to be able to use these insights to help mission-driven organizations do the work they’re most passionate about. It’s also provided my team with real-world teachable moments, reinforcing practical lessons that I’ve learned many times over in theory. These include: 

  1. Understanding how tiny changes in wording can radically influence the picture created by data. 
  2. Acknowledging that we need to continually check our own personal biases when writing questions that require empathy with other peoples’ lived experiences.  
  3. Seeing how the trends we find can reveal surprising, sometimes uncomfortable truths about the world we live in.  

In the summer of 2020, for instance, we polled thousands of Americans about the “Defund the Police” movement and found that while the phrase itself was unpopular, actual descriptions of the policy generated much more favorable reactions with Americans from all walks of life. This is just one powerful example which goes to underscore how the way we choose to frame an issue is immensely important, and why a thoughtful, open-minded approach to applied research is essential.

As we continue to equip social good organizations with insights and data to navigate a rapidly changing political and social landscape, I’m more excited than ever to see the impact that my team’s work will have.