Focus groups aren’t just for testing super bowl ads or new TV shows, they can also have a major influence on world politics. After the GOP’s failure to convince Latino voters during the 2012 presidential race, you can be sure that the campaign strategists for 2016 won’t let that happen again. Not surprising, focus groups are a helpful tool for them to test their political agenda as with recent proposals for immigration reform. But how much does success or failure depend on focus group results? After all, as Morgan indicates, focus groups are increasingly popular but their implications remain controversial.
The constant struggle between content focus and participant interaction, the role of the moderator, and very likely, like Kara mentioned in her post, effects of Noelle-Neumann’s “spiral of silence” in a heterogenic focus group have to be addressed. Is a “spiral of silence” even inherent in focus groups?
While the error potential and plethora of variables will continue to cause headaches for quantitative researchers, focus groups are also a blessing for qualitative researchers and a key contributor to grounded theory. However, I believe that the true strength of focus groups is in a combination of both research methods and will be curious to find out if academic standards for research design, like proposed in Morgan’s article, actually survive the constraints of market research at tomorrow’s field trip.