How Do Interviews Take Place?
After a designated respondent has been selected in a household, the actual process of data collection begins. In most polls, this happens through a conversation when a trained interviewer asks the respondent a series of questions. There are several different ways in which this conversation can take place--on the telephone, face to face, or with the aid of a computer. In the case of exit polls, interviews are conducted by handing respondents a questionnaire and having them fill it out themselves.
Any of these modes of data collection can be used to gather data in scientific election polls, and some additional data-collection techniques are even used in unscientific "polls." In most of this century and in the last, the traditional mode for gathering election poll data has been to use interviewers who ask people questions "face to face." Interviewing people "in person" has also been used in the unscientific straw polls that were conducted by journalists, political campaign workers, and interested citizens in the United States as early as the mid-1800s.
Face-to-face questioning was the preferred interviewing method for many years because it was both practical and timely. It was practical in the sense that voters were often sampled and interviewed at their home addresses. And it was timely because, until recently, the media did not require immediate access to their poll findings in order to make news. In