The Voter's Guide to Election Polls

By Michael W. Traugott; Paul J. Lavrakas | Go to book overview

Two
What Are Election Polls?
How Are They Conducted?

For many citizens, the basic concepts of polling are a mystery. Actually most polls involve only a limited number of techniques. Election polls are just a special use of survey research techniques, employing procedures developed and refined over most of the twentieth century.

Polls begin with the selection of a sample of people to be interviewed, who are called the respondents. They must be selected in a scientific way if they are to reflect accurately the population they are supposed to represent. In that case, their attitudes and opinions will reflect those of the entire population. The respondents are asked a series of questions in a standardized form, called a questionnaire. Most contemporary election polling is conducted on the telephone, although sometimes interviews are conducted face-to-face in people's homes or as they leave their balloting place. In 1998, attempts were made to conduct polls on the Internet. The answers to the survey questions are tabulated using computers, and the results can be presented in a variety of ways.

An election Poll is a survey conducted on topics related to the campaign or conducted during the main campaign period. Some election polls are conducted for candidates to help them develop strategy, organize their campaign, and raise funds. Others are conducted for media organizations to help them produce news stories. Still others are conducted by political scientists or other social researchers in order to understand how campaigns work and to explain the impact of events and news coverage of them on the voters.

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