In presidential election years, Americans are seemingly bombarded with one poll after another. This election cycle in particular has featured so many polls that many people aren’t sure what to believe. Certain candidates have defied early polling results while others have dropped out of the race after polls showed little to no chance of a win.
One thing that people should remember is that not all polls are created equal. Pollsters work to make sure their polls are accurate and represent the facts. However, it’s never as black and white as it might look on paper. The symbiotic relationship between pollsters and candidates can be beneficial to both parties. From day one of a candidacy to election day, pollsters play an important role in the success or failure of a campaign.
Who Do You Like?
At different points throughout an election, pollsters seek to represent the preferences of likely voters. This might sound pretty straightforward. They might just have to ask, “Do you like candidate A or candidate B?”
The reality is that even slight differences in how questions are asked in polls can affect responses. Additionally, pollsters often go to great lengths to identify “likely voters.” After all, if a poll shows the preferences of people who end up not voting, the poll can be misleading.
There are many challenges faced by pollsters, such as how to set up telephone surveys and where candidates are placed in the list of all those running. Is it beneficial to appear first on a list of 15 candidates? Does the order of questions asked affect the answers? These are the minute details that must be considered.
The Game is Changing
Public opinion polls seek to represent viewpoints of an electorate and then broadcast the results in order to show a snapshot of the race at that point in time. But many are seeing problems faced by polls in the 21st century.
“The science of public surveying is in something of a crisis right now,” says Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
One major problem is that polls aren’t keeping up with technology. Many pollsters are forced to call landlines of registered voters. This presents at least two problems. First, younger voters do not use landlines as often as older voters do. Some households don’t even have landlines anymore. Also, there are voters who are not yet registered but who do plan on voting.
Additionally, less people seem to be interested in engaging with polls today. Language barriers and the inability to gain access to certain parts of the electorate present problems that can affect polling results. Since it’s becoming more difficult to reach people and then get them to participate in polling, additional resources are often necessary to commit to conducting a quality poll. This leaves room for a wider range in the quality of polls.
The Impact of Polls
Candidates tailor their stump speeches based on poll results. They also use polls to determine where to spend their money. For example, if a poll shows a candidate losing badly in one state, but competing in a close race in another, the candidate might focus efforts on the latter race.
Pollsters face an ever-changing challenge when it comes to conducting quality polls. They must consider many factors in order to present the public with fair and balanced polls. As we move further into a tech-centric world, methods of pollsters must adapt to new ways of polling. Candidates must decide which polls to listen to and which ones to ignore if they want to get elected.
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