Questions to ask when covering poll results

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

    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 position as marketing communications manager.

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