The Voter's Guide to Election Polls

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

Ten
What Are Some Common
Problems and Complaints
about Polls?

With all of the knowledge about polls and the polling process that you have gained by getting this far into the book, it is possible now to talk more about the promises and the pitfalls of polling.

On the positive side, the prospects for election polls contributing to a better-informed citizenry are virtually unlimited. In order for that potential to be realized, however, polls have to be conducted with care so that they produce reliable and valid data. They have to be analyzed carefully so that accurate and meaningful news stories are constructed from them. And these stories have to be produced and disseminated in ways that reasonably large numbers of sophisticated readers and viewers will be exposed to them. The main purpose of this book has been to provide readers with the background knowledge to become educated consumers of polling information.

The pitfalls are numerous too. Many news organizations, especially individual television and radio stations and smaller newspapers, are enamored of polls as a news source. Editors and producers want to generate their own data at the lowest cost possible. In the polling business, just as in any other, you get what you pay for. One difference, however, is that you can disseminate an awful lot of bad data very quickly through the application of modern technology to the news business.

Many journalists attach a special weight to information obtained from press releases and press conferences that an individual or a special-interest

-129-

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