Resources for Covering Political Polls
Political polls play an important role in every election but can be tricky for journalists trying to determine their validity. This page will help you get the resources you need to scrutinize and report on those polls, factoring in ever-expanding technology such as online polling and automated polls. The information was provided by American University's School of Communication as part of a Specialized Reporting Institute on June 17-18, 2011, in Washington, D.C. The workshop was funded by a grant from the McCormick Foundation.
Gallup does polling on topics ranging from presidential job approval to economic trends, and is eager to help journalists use and understand its data. Gallup does extensive tracking of issues and policies in 112 countries as well as in the United States.
The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press is an independent, non-partisan public opinion research organization that studies attitudes toward politics, the press and public policy issues. The center conducts regular monthly polls on politics and major policy issues as well as the News Interest Index, a weekly survey aimed at gauging the public’s interest in and reaction to major news events.
The Pew Hispanic Center calls itself a “fact tank” that provides considerable research, but no opinion, on the nation’s growing Latino population. Mark Lopez, the center’s associate director, said the center conducts surveys and studies and is available to discuss findings with journalists. You can reach him at MLopez@pewhispanic.org or 202-419-3606.
The American Research Group publishes survey results from a range of subscribers including news organizations, single media outlets, media groups, corporations, foundations, individuals and and lobbying firms. ARG also offers several survey tools on the site, including a margin of error calculator for polls, a sample size calculator and a ballot lead calculator to evaluate whether one candidate has a lead over the other based on the results from a poll.
Mark Blumenthal, co-founder of HuffPost’s Pollster.com, is considered one of the best “explainers” of polls and trends in polling. He aggregates and analyzes polls and urges journalists to press pollsters on their survey methods.
The New York Times Resources
The New York Times has recently updated its polling standards [PDF] and a quick checklist [PDF] for assessing and reporting on polls. Janet Elder, news surveys and election analysis editor at the Times, pointed to the New York Times/CBS News 2009 poll of unemployed adults, as an example of what makes a strong poll story.
Founded in 1947, AAPOR is a professional association made up of individuals involved in public opinion and survey research. Members work in a wide variety of settings, including universities, commercial firms, government agencies, media organizations and non-profit groups.
The Council of American Survey Research Organizations (CASRO) is the trade association of survey research organizations, representing more than 300 companies and research operations in the United States and abroad.
The National Council on Public Polls (NCPP) is an association of polling organizations established in 1969. Its mission is to set the highest professional standards for public opinion pollsters and to advance the understanding, among politicians, the media and general public, of how polls are conducted and how to interpret poll results.
WAPOR was founded in 1947 by a group of experts and scholars interested in promoting and improving public opinion research all over the world. For more than half a century, WAPOR members have worked together and with others, especially journalists who report on public opinion, to maintain high standards for the collection, analysis and dissemination of public opinion data.
Polling Data and Other Resources
The Roper Center is one of the world's leading archives of social science data, specializing in data from surveys of public opinion. The data at the RoperCenter range from the 1930s, when survey research was in its infancy, to the present. Most of the data are from the United States, but more than 50 nations are represented. The center includes a searchable database (IPOLl) of more the 500,000 public opinion questions.
Nonpartisan and nonprofit, Public Agenda was founded by social scientist and author Daniel Yankelovich and former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance in 1975. The center provides data on what the public thinks about issues ranging from education to foreign policy to immigration to religion and civility in American life.
About this Resource Page
Many of the resources on this page came from a workshop at American University on political polling.
Funded by a grant from the McCormick Foundation, the workshop brought together some of the country’s pre-eminent pollsters, journalists and faculty from AU’s School of Communication and School of Public Affairs, which offer a joint master’s degree in political communication.