Baffled By The Polls? Here’s Some Help

Posted December 29, 2007 at 2:59pm

During election seasons, readers are bombarded with news stories about the latest polls (confession: including by CQ Politics Poll Tracker). How do you know which ones are reliable and which ones are not, or how to compare one to another? The American Association for Public Opinion Research, a professional organization of public opinion and survey research professionals, has posted an online course to help separate the legitimate numbers from the sloppy surveys. Aimed at journalists, you can use it too.

The Association’s course is designed to help:

– Appreciate the value of solid polling data
– Understand the science of polling
– Identify the elements of a valid poll
– Interpret the methods box of a poll
– Analyze the quality of questions
– Identify appropriate sample groups
– Understand weighting and its value
– Evaluate polling agencies and sponsors

Click here and check it out.

The Washington Post also has a useful tutorial, “Five Tips for Decoding Those Election Polls,” from Gary Langer, director of polling at ABC News, and Jon Cohen, director of polling at The Washington Post.

Another good resource is a piece by the Wharton School assessing how reliable polls are these days. Find it here.