The Voter's Guide to Election Polls

By Michael W. Traugott; Paul J. Lavrakas | Go to book overview
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How Do News Organizations
Collect and Report Poll Data?

Media organizations collectively spend millions of dollars for polls during election campaigns so that they can produce content for news stories. Some news organizations purchase data from market research firms by underwriting the costs of a special survey, while others subscribe to a nationally syndicated service such as the Gallup or Harris polls. The largest news organizations in the country--the television networks and major metropolitan daily newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post--have their own polling units. And many of them operate in partnership with each other when they do not compete directly for the same audience.

Media organizations conduct different kinds of polls at different stages of the campaign. Early in the campaign, the preelection polls may contain many questions about issues, but the issue content declines as Election Day nears. Then the emphasis in the polls turns toward the "trial-heat" question measuring candidate preference. In conjunction with news coverage that focuses on who is ahead and by how much, the focus of the polls is on candidate standing. On Election Day itself, news organizations sponsor exit polls that are used to estimate the actual outcome of the race based on interviews with voters leaving their balloting places. These exit polls can also be used to analyze and explain why voters cast their ballots the way they did.

Election coverage has always been a "good story" for news organiza


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