In the months before an election, journalists, campaigns and voters alike turn to poll and survey statistics to gauge public opinion on certain candidates, politics and policies. How are opinion polls conducted and how credible are the results?
The science involves computer analysis of mathematical methods to determine a shared belief by a random sample of people. While the methods employed are far more sophisticated than straw polls of decades past, it is far from an exact science.
Everything from when the poll is conducted to who is most likely to respond to surveys and how the questions are asked are consequential elements that can affect results. Still, polling data is widely used as a tool to predict voter preferences.
How has polling methodology changed over time? Does the way in which surveys are conducted affect their results? What are "push polls" and how can voters determine if they are taking one?
What is a representative sample and how is it obtained? What is "oversampling" and how can it affect survey outcomes?
What role does the court of public opinion play in American democracy? How much trust should we put in polling and survey science? How can you determine whether results are credible, flawed or biased?
- Rob Santos, vice president and chief methodologist for the Urban Institute; former president of the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers; and president-elect of the American Statistical Association
- Trent Buskirk, Novak Family Professor of Data Science and chair of the Applied Statistics and Operations Research Department at Bowling Green State University
- Scott Keeter, senior survey advisor for the Pew Research Center
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*This interview was recorded on Tuesday, June 30.
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