Debate focus groupReal-time response is a second-by-second measurement of individuals’ reactions to the presidential candidates debates while they are happening. But it is not just another method of opinion polling: It actually gives the public more clout in shaping election coverage.

“Voters are tired of being managed by the media,” says Rita Kirk, professor of corporate communications and public affairs (CCPA) in Meadows School of the Arts. While studying how the public uses blogs, social networking sites and other online tools, Kirk and Assistant Professor Dan Schill developed the idea of giving voters a voice in network coverage through real-time response focus groups.

Using palm-sized electronic dial meters, members of focus groups signal their reactions to the issues raised, the arguments and the bluster. On a scale of 1 to 100, they “dial up” when they like what they hear and “dial down” when they don’t. The professors’ real-time response groups now play a prominent role in CNN’s online coverage, beginning with the first New Hampshire debate in June 2007, and probably will continue through the final head-to-head debate in October, Schill says.

Read more at SMU Magazine online. (Right, undecided Democrats participated in a real-time response focus group for CNN on the SMU campus Feb. 21.)