Election Polling: The Good, The Bad and Raising the Bar on 2020 Coverage

DEADLINE: Oct. 2, 2019
TEACHING DATE: Oct. 4, 2019
LOCATION: George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
COST: Free for selected participants

Be part of the conversation to update and define journalism standards for using polls in the 2020 election

The Poynter Institute and its Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership are pleased to present an invitation-only workshop aimed at elevating the journalism around political polls and electoral competition and provoking ideas for fresh, fair and consequential coverage.

We are inviting approximately 40 pollsters, reporters, editors and academics to participate in a day of active conversations on best practices in polling. The discussions will help produce a report for wider dissemination to media practitioners and consumers. As the 2020 national and local campaigns gain traction, it is time to challenge the industry to succeed in the highest standards of journalistic and storytelling excellence.


Kelly McBride

Kelly McBride is the senior vice president of the Poynter Institute. She is also the Chair of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership at Poynter.

Neil Brown is the president of The Poynter Institute. He joined Poynter in September 2017 after serving as the editor and vice president of the Tampa Bay Times.

Angie Holan

Angie Drobnic Holan is the editor of PolitiFact and helped launch the site in 2007. She was a member of the PolitiFact team that won the Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the 2008 election.

Frank Sesno is director of the School of Media and Public Affairs (SMPA) at The George Washington University. He is an Emmy-award winning journalist and creator of PlanetForward.org, a user-driven web and television project that highlights innovations in sustainability.


Jennifer Agiesta is the director of polling and election analytics at CNN. She produces all the network’s polling and leads its Election Night decision team, while guiding CNN’s reporting on the use of polls.

Jennifer Benz is the deputy director of The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Her research includes numerous studies measuring awareness, understanding, and perceptions of public policy and political issues.

Karlyn Bowman is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. She compiles and analyzes American public opinion using available polling data and is a columnist for Forbes.com.

Scott Clement is the polling director for The Washington Post, conducting national and local polls about politics, elections and social issues.

David Dutwin is chief data officer and senior vice president for SSRS. He is also a Senior Fellow and Lecturer for the University of Pennsylvania Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies.

Ariel Edwards-Levy is the polling editor and a staff reporter at HuffPost, where she covers politics, public opinion and the survey industry. She also runs HuffPost’s partnership with the polling firm YouGov.

Louis Jacobson has been with PolitiFact since 2009, currently as senior correspondent. He has served as deputy editor of Roll Call and as founding editor of its legislative wire service, CongressNow.

Courtney Kennedy is the director of survey research at Pew Research Center. She serves as the chief survey methodologist for the Center, providing guidance on all of its research and leading its methodology work.

Tom Rosenstiel is a non-fiction author, media critic, journalist and novelist. He is currently executive director of the American Press Institute.

Anthony Salvanto, Ph.D. is news director of elections and surveys at CBS. He conducts all national and state polling and heads the Decision Desk that projects outcomes on Election Nights.

Emily Swanson is the polling editor at The Associated Press, where she directs questionnaire design and editorial coverage of AP VoteCast. She also directs polls conducted by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Trevor Tompson is vice president for public affairs research at NORC at the University of Chicago. He is a public opinion researcher with a specialization in media polling.

Anita Varma, Ph.D. is the assistant director of Journalism & Media Ethics, as well as Social Sector Ethics, at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

Discussion topics include

  • Major news organizations are updating their standards and practices around polling and the coverage of findings. What are the latest issues and changes?
  • Good polls and bad polls: Case studies from the front lines
  • The methods debate: We talk of cell phone dilemmas, digital polling practices, various tactical differences between polls by political campaigns versus those of independent news organizations. What’s the latest thinking on the science and methodologies?
  • Covering or swaying? We will discuss the research on how media coverage of polls influences voter behavior and examine questions about whether we are reporting on “inevitability”  or “electability” or creating that with our polling.
  • Issue polls have their own troubles. Framing of questions on broad topics like health care or climate change creates results that may be a mile wide and inch deep. How do we understand how voters think about complex topics?
  • Is there enough, reliable state-level polling? Given that our presidential elections are decided by the Electoral College and not a popular vote, can we responsibly predict that race?
  • Misinformation isn’t all about fake news. How are polls fodder for misunderstanding?


The event will be held on the campus of George Washington University on Friday, Oct. 4 from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with reception to follow.

Schedule is subject to change.

9:00 a.m. — Registration

9:30 a.m. — Welcome Introductions and Goals for the Day, Neil Brown, Kelly McBride and Frank Sesno

9:40 a.m. — How Polling Has Evolved: From Random Digit Dialing to Internet Panels, David Dutwin

10:00 a.m. — PANEL: The Strengths and Weaknesses of Modern Polling, Karlyn Bowman and David Dutwin; moderated by Angie Drobnic Holan

10:45 a.m. — 2016: A Recap of What Went Wrong — and Right, Courtney Kennedy

11:15 a.m. — Break

11:30 a.m. — Wag the Dog: Can Polls Influence Voter Behavior? Anita Varma and Kelly McBride

12:30 p.m. — Lunch

1:00 p.m. — PANEL: Polling that Matters (lunch programming), Anthony Salvanto, Trevor Thompson and Jennifer Benz; moderated by Louis Jacobson

2:00 p.m. — Break

2:15 p.m. — PANEL: What It’s Like to Try to Uphold Great Standards, Jennifer Agiesta and Emily Swanson; moderated by Neil Brown

2:45 p.m. — PANEL: How Can Journalists Do a Better Job Covering Polls? Scott Clement and Ariel Edwards Levy; moderated by Tom Rosenstiel

3:30 p.m. — A Draft of Best Practices, Kelly McBride

4:00 p.m. — Adjourn

Networking and happy hour until 6:00 p.m.


The George Washington University
Media and Public Affairs Building
805 21st Street NW
Room 309
Washington, DC 20052

Who should attend

This invitation-only event is aimed at polling editors, standards editors, pollsters, political journalists, media critics and industry thought leaders. 

Among those already committed to attend are editors and pollsters from the Associated Press, the Washington Post, CNN, ABC News, GW, Huffington Post, Pew Research, Santa Clara University and PolitiFact.com.

Registration process

This summit is by invitation only. Please email Shannon Kellenberger, administrative assistant for the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics & Leadership, at skellenberger@poynter.org to request an invitation. 


Free to selected attendees


We’d love to hear from you. Please email Shannon Kellenberger at skellenberger@poynter.org

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