Q&A Friday #83: How Seriously Do You Take Polls?

by John Hawkins | January 25, 2008 5:32 am

Question: How seriously do you take polls? I know you use them quite often to support an opinion, but do you really think they’re that accurate? I, for one, have never participated in any survey or polls (Gallup, Rasmussen, or any others). I don’t personally know anybody else who has either. Most people I know from work or in my family are regular, blue-collar people who work all day, go home and watch the news and spend a little time with their family. If they go online, it’s usually for reasons far more recreational than politics. I’m sure there are many people across the country who fit the same mold, so how accurate can those polls be? How much credence do you give to the “silent majority”? — The_Muck_Man

Answer: Polls can be very tricky to deal with. You can consider the quality of the people taking the poll, whether it’s likely voters, registered voters, or adults, what’s being polled, the margin of error, trends, and a few other factors. But, if you can take everything into account, polls are very valuable.

Put another way, if you have a good head for statistics, enough data to work with, and have enough experience to understand how to interpret the poll data, polling is extremely useful.

PS: Also, keep in mind that polls are representative samples. When you’re talking about polling agencies that know what they’re doing and they get enough data, they don’t have to poll everyone to know exactly how things will break down.

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