How Can I Evaluate
Published Poll Results?
Many citizens are inherently skeptical about polls and poll results. As a poll consumer, you want to have confidence in the information you see, read, or hear. There are only a few simple things you need to know in order to make an informed judgment about the quality of the data and the findings based on them.
Some people are concerned about "small" sample sizes: How can I trust information obtained from so few people? Why should I believe poll results if no one I know has ever been interviewed?
Some people are concerned about the presentation of biased data by individuals or groups who want to use polls to support views they already hold: How do I know they asked the "right" question? Which group of people responded to this poll?
Still others are uncomfortable with statistical information because it is unintelligible to them: What do all these numbers mean?
A few simple principles and rules will help any citizen to understand and evaluate poll results--if the report of the poll contains the appropriate information. The preceding chapters introduced the essential elements of this information. Some readers may have skipped ahead to this chapter in order to find a short list of items they should consider in evaluating poll results. This chapter contains a summary of information that will help readers perform a critical review of published poll results.