October 25, 2016

Journalists are constantly bombarded with data from polls, particularly as election day approaches. Here are some questions you should ask as you’re covering the numbers:

  • Who conducted the poll?
  • Who sponsored or paid for the poll?
  • How many people were surveyed and what’s the margin of error?
  • Who are respondents (registered voters, likely voters, state residents, etc.)?
  • When was the survey conducted?
  • How the respondents were contacted (in person, by phone, internet, etc.)?
  • Were the data weighted? How?

Remember that all public opinion surveys offer a slice of what people are thinking at one given time. Consider these additional questions to put the results in context:

  • What is the environment in which the poll was conducted?
  • Have any events occurred that might affect people’s knowledge and views? Fast-moving election campaigns might need context such as: The survey was conducted before Candidate X was endorsed on Sunday by the two largest media organizations in the state.

Taken from Understanding and Interpreting Polls, a self-directed course at Poynter NewsU, developed in partnership with the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR).

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Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current…
Vicki Krueger

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