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Polls And Surveys Are Used To Gauge Public Opinion. How Credible Are The Results?

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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?


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*This interview was recorded on Tuesday, June 30.

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Kim Johnson is the producer for Texas Public Radio’s live, call-in show The Source. She is a Trinity University alum with bachelor’s degrees in Communication and Spanish, and a Master of Arts Degree from the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.
Dallas Williams is a Producer for The Source at Texas Public Radio. With a degree in Mass Communication — Broadcast Media, Dallas brings a unique perspective and a passion to producing a live, call-talk show.