The Voter's Guide to Election Polls

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

Eight
How Do Media Organizations
Analyze Polls?

Poll data support a different kind of news story than do traditional forms of reporting. Most election news stories are based on interviews with a few key individuals, usually political elites. They often provide an organizational perspective on a story that is based on strategic interests. When a reporter interviews the Democratic or Republican Party chair, the interviewee provides spin on a story to support his or her party's interest. When stories are based on poll results, they give a voice to the feelings, attitudes, or intended behavior of the public. This can be more informative for readers and voters, if the poll is appropriately analyzed.

Media organizations have to analyze and present the results of polls in a way that is understandable and intelligible for readers and viewers with limited methodological and statistical training. Usually, this means that poll data are presented one question at a time. Sometimes there is limited analysis of the data by the demographic characteristics of the respondents, such as age, party identification, race, or gender. Often, however, there is no analysis by relevant subgroups. Then the reader or listener is left with a statement of gross percentages or rates that are technically "accurate" but do not provide any politically useful or relevant basis for interpretation.

A general problem with many media polls is that a good deal of time and money is invested in collecting the data, but too little effort is devoted to analysis. This situation tends to be worse for data presented on television

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