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.

What the Experts Say

Campaign Strategy

David Winston and the Winston Group help candidates and organizations define their message. He says all good campaigns are guided by metrics. Campaigns not only poll to measure the effectiveness of their message, they also poll how their message plays in response to the opponent’s message. Journalists should ask about the outcomes voters are looking for and how they will be measured, he says.
Email: lmathias@winstongroup.net

Mark Mellman of the Mellman Group was the pollster for the successful re-election campaign of Sen. Harry Reid, R-Nevada. He credits the accuracy of his polls -- as opposed to others which showed Reid losing -- to pollsters' tenacity trying to reach the likely electorate by obtaining cell phone numbers and then pursuing voters with multiple calls. He encourages journalists to be clear about what they have and what it does and doesn’t show.
Email: info@mellmangroup.com
Phone: 202-625-0370

Polling Structure

Geoff Garin, president of Peter Hart Research, said pollsters have an obligation to be transparent and journalists have a right to ask more than the questions used in the polls. He says the way questions are phrased, ordered and scored can dramatically alter results.
Email: info@hartresearch.com

Randy Gutermuth, vice president of American Viewpoint, cautions that a large sampling size does not make up for poor methodology and that margin of error is critically important. He says that while online polling may be the next platform for polling, it's not there yet.
Email: info@amview.com
Phone: 703-684-3325 or 800-684-4410

Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Company, does polling for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg News. Her extensive background includes work in framing polls and in caucus and exit polling. She accurately predicted the influx of new voters in the 2008 caucuses that accounted for the victory of Barack Obama.

Find an Expert

Mark Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center is available to discuss findings on the nation’s growing Latino population.
Email: MLopez@pewhispanic.org
Phone: 202-419-3606

Recommended Reading

Candice Nelson, American University associate professor of government, has done extensive research on independent voters. Her most recent research is The Myth of the Independent Voter Revisited [PDF], with David B. Magleby, Brigham Young University, and Mark C. Westlye, University of California, Office of the President (retired).

Herbert Asher, professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University, has written numerous articles and books on legislative politics, electoral politics and political methodology. His book Polling the Public: What Every Citizen Should Know is used as a textbook on many campuses. Chapters 6 and 7 are particularly helpful for covering political and public polls during an election.

Key Resources

Gallup

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.
www.gallup.com

Pew Research Center

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.
www.people-press.org

Pew Hispanic Center

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.
pewhispanic.org

American Research Group, Inc.

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.
americanresearchgroup.com

Polling Trends

Pollster.com

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.
www.huffingtonpost.com/news/pollster

Polling Standards

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.

Polling Associations

AAPOR: American Association for Public Opinion Research

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.
www.aapor.org

CASRO: Council of American Survey Research Organizations

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.
www.casro.org

NCPP: National Council on Public Polls

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.
www.ncpp.org

WAPOR: World Association for Public Opinion Research

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.
www.wapor.org

Polling Data and Other Resources

Roper Center for Public Opinion Research

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.
www.ropercenter.uconn.edu

Public Agenda

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.
www.publicagenda.org

Training

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.