DALLAS, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — As Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke face off in Friday night’s debate, a panel of potentially undecided voters will gauge their reactions for viewers to see.
Nexstar Media Group is hosting the debate at 7 p.m. on Friday at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and can be viewed on Fox 14 and MyHighPlains.com. During the debate, a focus group will be in Dallas measuring their reactions with dial testing.
David Paull, the founder of Dialsmith, said each of the focus group participants will hold dials in their hands as they watch the debate live.
“As they feel positively or like what they’re hearing, they turn the dial up toward the positive direction and if they feel negatively about it, they turn the dial down toward the negative direction,” Paull said, “and all through the debate, they’re continuously making these adjustments.”
Paull said as participants turn the dials, colored lines will appear on the screen over the debate, showing how certain groups are reacting.
“As the lines go up with a particular group, that means that that group is liking what they’re hearing, and they’re connecting with the candidate on that point,” he said,. “and if the lines go down, then, of course, it’s the opposite.”
Austin Kellerman, the senior director of local digital content strategy for Nexstar, said viewers will be able to see if focus group members have the same reactions to different answers and topics.
“The idea is to be able to show which way people may lean, right? So, you’ll have some people who are independent, some who may lean Republican or Democrat, and then you’ll be able to see those lines on the screen,” Kellerman said. “This is a way for, you know, people to be able to see how undecided voters felt actually in real-time.”
According to Dialsmith’s website, dial testing has key benefits, including capturing moments of truth, helping to overcome groupthink, and mitigating memory bias.
Paull said research often relies on recall, like asking people how they felt about something after the fact.
“The problem with that is they can only tell us what their memory is able to reconstruct for them. We can never go back to that moment,” Paull said. “So with the dial, they’re able to register in the moment exactly how they’re feeling, and then after the fact when we have a conversation with them, we can use those dial results to prompt them to go back to where they were and why they reacted that way.”
The focus group results will be visible for people to watch online, and for analysis in a post-debate show. Kellerman said in that post-debate analysis, viewers will be able to hear from members of the focus group about their reactions.
“It’s not just going to be political pundits telling you, you know, what were the big moments and what were the impactful things that were said,” he said. “You’re going to be able to hear from, you know, real Texas voters responding to the things that they heard.”
Kellerman also said there are numerous ways for viewers to get involved in the debate.
“You can watch it on your screen, you can watch the dials, but you can live tweet it as well,” he added. “So we want this debate not to just be something you sit back and listen to, but something you can react to, you can engage with other people so that it’s a true interactive experience.”
Viewers can live tweet along with the Abbott-O’Rourke debate on Twitter using #TXGovDebate.