Why you should be cautious about poll results

Numbers imply precision, so it can be tempting to accept poll results.

Here are reasons journalists should be cautious about the numbers:

  • Polls are not predictions; they are snapshots of opinion at the time they were conducted.
  • Polls can report only on the questions that were asked. There may be other important issues that were not included in the poll. For example, polls may not ask why people feel the way they do.
  • Polls cannot tell us about sub-groups in the population that are very small in number.
  • If a poll was conducted with unrepresentative sampling, it cannot represent the population.

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

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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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