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An opinion poll, often simply referred to as a poll or a survey, is a human research survey of
public opinion Public opinion is the collective opinion on a specific topic or voting intention relevant to a society. Etymology The term "public opinion" was derived from the French ', which was first used in 1588 by Michel de Montaigne Image:ArmoiriesM ...
from a particular sample. Opinion polls are usually designed to represent the opinions of a population by conducting a series of questions and then extrapolating generalities in ratio or within
confidence intervals In statistics Statistics is the discipline that concerns the collection, organization, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data. In applying statistics to a scientific, industrial, or social problem, it is conventional to begin with ...
. A person who conducts polls is referred to as a pollster.


History

The first known example of an opinion poll was a tallies of voter preferences reported by the ''Raleigh Star and North Carolina State Gazette'' and the ''Wilmington American Watchman and Delaware Advertiser'' prior to the 1824 presidential election, showing
Andrew Jackson Andrew Jackson (March 15, 1767 – June 8, 1845) was an American lawyer, soldier, and statesman who served as the seventh president of the United States The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and head of ...

Andrew Jackson
leading
John Quincy Adams John Quincy Adams (; July 11, 1767 – February 23, 1848) was an American statesman, diplomat, lawyer, and diarist, who served as the 6th president of the United States The president of the United States (POTUS) is the and of the . ...

John Quincy Adams
by 335 votes to 169 in the contest for the
United States Presidency The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state A head of state (or chief of state) is the public persona who officially embodies a state (polity), state#Foakes, Foakes, pp. 110–11 " he head of statebeing an embodime ...
. Since Jackson won the popular vote in that state and the whole country, such straw votes gradually became more popular, but they remained local, usually citywide phenomena. In 1916, ''
The Literary Digest ''The Literary Digest'' was an influential American general interest weekly magazine A magazine is a periodical literature, periodical publication which is printing, printed in Coated paper, gloss-coated and Paint sheen, matte paper. Magazines ...
'' embarked on a national survey (partly as a circulation-raising exercise) and correctly predicted
Woodrow Wilson Thomas Woodrow Wilson (December 28, 1856February 3, 1924) was an American politician and academic who served as the 28th president of the United States The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and head of gove ...

Woodrow Wilson
's election as president. Mailing out millions of
postcard A postcard or post card is a piece of thick paper or thin Card stock, cardboard, typically rectangular, intended for writing and mailing without an envelope. Non-rectangular shapes may also be used but are rare. There are novelty exceptions, suc ...

postcard
s and simply counting the returns, ''The Literary Digest'' correctly predicted the victories of
Warren Harding Warren Gamaliel Harding (November 2, 1865 – August 2, 1923) was the 29th president of the United States The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and head of government of the United States of America. The presid ...
in 1920,
Calvin Coolidge Calvin Coolidge (born John Calvin Coolidge Jr.; ; July 4, 1872 – January 5, 1933) was an was an American lawyer and politician, who became the 30th president of the United States The president of the United States (POTUS) is the hea ...

Calvin Coolidge
in 1924,
Herbert Hoover Herbert Clark Hoover (August 10, 1874 – October 20, 1964) was an American politician and engineer who served as the 31st president of the United States The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and head of gove ...

Herbert Hoover
in 1928, and
Franklin Roosevelt Franklin Delano Roosevelt (, ; January 30, 1882April 12, 1945), often referred to by his initials FDR, was an American politician who served as the 32nd president of the United States The president of the United States (POTUS) is th ...
in 1932. Then, in
1936 Events January * January 4 Events Pre-1600 *46 BC – Julius Caesar fights Titus Labienus in the Battle of Ruspina. *871 – Battle of Reading (871), Battle of Reading: Æthelred of Wessex and his brother Alfred the Great, Al ...
, its survey of 2.3 million voters suggested that
Alf Landon Alfred Mossman Landon (September 9, 1887October 12, 1987) was an American politician who served as the List of Governors of Kansas, twenty-sixth Governor of Kansas, a position he held from 1933 to 1937. A member of the Republican Party (United Sta ...

Alf Landon
would win the presidential election, but Roosevelt was instead re-elected by a landslide. The error was mainly caused by
participation biasParticipation bias or non-response bias is a phenomenon in which the results of elections An election is a formal group decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual or multiple individuals to hold public office.
; those who favored Landon were more enthusiastic about participating in the poll. Furthermore, the survey over-sampled more affluent Americans who tended to have
Republican Republican can refer to: Political ideology * An advocate of a republic, a type of government that is not a monarchy or dictatorship, and is usually associated with the rule of law. ** Republicanism, the ideology in support of republics or against ...
sympathies. At the same time,
George Gallup George Horace Gallup (November 18, 1901 – July 26, 1984) was an American pioneer of survey sampling techniques and inventor of the Gallup poll, a successful statistics, statistical method of survey sampling for measuring opinion polls, publi ...

George Gallup
conducted a far smaller (but more scientifically based) survey, in which he polled a demographically representative sample.
The Gallup organization Gallup, Inc. is an American analytics and advisory company based in Washington, D.C. ) , image_skyline = , image_caption = Clockwise from top left: the Washington Monument The Washington Monument is an ob ...
correctly predicted Roosevelt's landslide victory, as did another groundbreaking pollster, Archibald Crossley. ''The Literary Digest'' soon went out of business, while polling started to take off.
Elmo RoperElmo Burns Roper Jr. (July 31, 1900 in Hebron, Nebraska Nebraska is a U.S. state, state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern region of the United States. It is bordered by South Dakota to the north; Iowa to the east and Missouri to th ...
was another American pioneer in
political forecasting Political forecasting aims at forecasting Forecasting is the process of making predictions based on past and present data and most commonly by analysis of trends. A commonplace example might be estimation of some variable of interest at some specif ...
using scientific polls. He correctly predicted the reelection of President Franklin D. Roosevelt three times, in 1936, 1940, and 1944.
Louis Harris Louis Harris (January 6, 1921 – December 17, 2016) was an American opinion polling An opinion is a judgement, viewpoint, or Proposition, statement that is not conclusive, rather than facts, which are true statements. Definition A given ...
had been in the field of public opinion since 1947 when he joined the Elmo Roper firm, then later became partner. In September 1938 Jean Stoetzel, after having met Gallup, created IFOP, the Institut Français d'Opinion Publique, as the first European survey institute in Paris and started political polls in summer 1939 with the question "
Why die for Danzig? Why may refer to: * Causality Causality (also referred to as causation, or cause and effect) is influence by which one event, process, state or object (a ''cause'') contributes to the production of another event, process, state or object (an ...
", looking for popular support or dissent with this question asked by appeasement politician and future collaborationist
Marcel Déat Marcel Déat (7 March 1894 – 5 January 1955) was a French politician. Initially a socialist Socialism is a Political philosophy, political, Social philosophy, social, and economic philosophy encompassing a range of Economic systems, econo ...
. Gallup launched a subsidiary in the
United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain,Usage is mixed. The Guardian' and Telegraph' use Britain as a synonym for the United Kingdom. Some prefer to use Britain as shorth ...

United Kingdom
that, almost alone, correctly predicted Labour's victory in the 1945 general election, unlike virtually all other commentators, who expected a victory for the
Conservative Party Conservative Party may refer to: Europe Current *Croatian Conservative Party, *Conservative Party (Czech Republic) *Conservative People's Party (Denmark) *Conservative Party of Georgia *Conservative Party (Norway) *Conservative Party (UK) Histor ...

Conservative Party
, led by
Winston Churchill Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, (30 November 187424 January 1965) was a British statesman who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom The prime minister of the United Kingdom is the head of government The hea ...

Winston Churchill
. The Allied occupation powers helped to create survey institutes in all of the Western occupation zones of Germany in 1947 and 1948 to better steer
denazification Denazification (german: link=no, Entnazifizierung) was an Allied initiative to rid German and Austrian society A society is a Social group, group of individuals involved in persistent Social relation, social interaction, or a large social ...
. By the 1950s, various types of polling had spread to most democracies. In long-term perspective, advertising had come under heavy pressure in the early 1930s. The Great Depression forced businesses to drastically cut back on their advertising spending. Layoffs and reductions were common at all agencies. The
New Deal The New Deal was a series of programs, public work projects, financial reforms, and regulations Regulation is the management of complex systems according to a set of rules and trends. In systems theory Systems theory is the interdisciplinar ...
furthermore aggressively promoted consumerism, and minimized the value of (or need for) advertising. Historian Jackson Lears argues that "By the late 1930s, though, corporate advertisers had begun a successful counterattack against their critics." They rehabilitated the concept of consumer sovereignty by inventing scientific public opinion polls, and making it the centerpiece of their own market research, as well as the key to understanding politics.
George Gallup George Horace Gallup (November 18, 1901 – July 26, 1984) was an American pioneer of survey sampling techniques and inventor of the Gallup poll, a successful statistics, statistical method of survey sampling for measuring opinion polls, publi ...

George Gallup
, the vice president of Young and Rubicam, and numerous other advertising experts, led the way. Moving into the 1940s, the industry played a leading role in the ideological mobilization of the American people for fighting the Nazis and Japanese in World War II. As part of that effort, they redefined the "American Way of Life" in terms of a commitment to free enterprise. "Advertisers," Lears concludes, "played a crucial hegemonic role in creating the consumer culture that dominated post-World War II American society."


Sample and polling methods

Opinion polls for many years were maintained through telecommunications or in person-to-person contact. Methods and techniques vary, though they are widely accepted in most areas. Over the years, technological innovations have also influenced survey methods such as the availability of electronic clipboards and Internet based polling. Verbal, ballot, and processed types can be conducted efficiently, contrasted with other types of surveys, systematics, and complicated matrices beyond previous orthodox procedures. Opinion polling developed into popular applications through popular thought, although response rates for some surveys declined. Also, the following has also led to differentiating results: Some polling organizations, such as
Angus Reid Public Opinion Angus Reid (born December 17, 1947) is a Canadian entrepreneur, chairman of the Angus Reid Institute and CEO and founder of Angus Reid Global. He is a recipient of a Canada Council The Canada Council for the Arts (french: Conseil des arts du Cana ...
,
YouGov YouGov is a British international Internet The Internet (or internet) is the global system of interconnected s that uses the (TCP/IP) to communicate between networks and devices. It is a ' that consists of private, public, academic, ...

YouGov
and Zogby use
Internet The Internet (or internet) is the global system of interconnected computer networks that uses the Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) to communicate between networks and devices. It is a ''internetworking, network of networks'' that consist ...

Internet
surveys, where a sample is drawn from a large panel of volunteers, and the results are weighted to reflect the demographics of the population of interest. In contrast, popular web polls draw on whomever wishes to participate, rather than a scientific sample of the population, and are therefore not generally considered professional. Recently, statistical learning methods have been proposed in order to exploit
social media Social media are interactive technologies that facilitate the creation Creation may refer to: Religion * Creation ''ex nihilo'', the concept that matter was created by God out of nothing * Creation myth A creation myth (or cosmogonic myth) ...

social media
content (such as posts on the micro-blogging platform
Twitter Twitter is an American microblogging Microblogging is an online Broadcasting, broadcast medium that exists as a specific form of blogging. A micro-blog differs from a traditional blog in that its content is typically smaller in both actu ...

Twitter
) for modelling and predicting voting intention polls.Vasileios Lampos, Daniel Preotiuc-Pietro and Trevor Cohn. A user-centric model of voting intention from social media. Proceedings of the 51st Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics. ACL, pp. 993-1003, 2013 Retrieved 16-06-4
/ref>Brendan O'Connor, Ramnath Balasubramanyan, Bryan R Routledge, and Noah A Smith. From Tweets to Polls: Linking Text Sentiment to Public Opinion Time Series. In Proceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media. AAAI Press, pp. 122–129, 2010. Polls can be used in the public relations field as well. In the early 1920s, public relation experts described their work as a two-way street. Their job would be to present the misinterpreted interests of large institutions to public. They would also gauge the typically ignored interests of the public through polls.


Benchmark polls

A ''benchmark poll'' is generally the first poll taken in a campaign. It is often taken before a candidate announces their bid for office, but sometimes it happens immediately following that announcement after they have had some opportunity to raise funds. This is generally a short and simple survey of likely voters. A ''benchmark poll'' serves a number of purposes for a campaign, whether it is a political campaign or some other type of campaign. First, it gives the candidate a picture of where they stand with the electorate before any campaigning takes place. If the poll is done prior to announcing for office the candidate may use the poll to decide whether or not they should even run for office. Secondly, it shows them where their weaknesses and strengths are in two main areas. The first is the electorate. A ''benchmark poll'' shows them what types of voters they are sure to win, those they are sure to lose, and everyone in-between these two extremes. This lets the campaign know which voters are persuadable so they can spend their limited resources in the most effective manner. Second, it can give them an idea of what messages, ideas, or slogans are the strongest with the electorate.Kenneth F. Warren (1992). "in Defense of Public Opinion Polling." Westview Press. p. 200-1.


Brushfire polls

''Brushfire polls'' are polls taken during the period between the ''benchmark poll'' and ''tracking polls''. The number of ''brushfire polls'' taken by a campaign is determined by how competitive the race is and how much money the campaign has to spend. These polls usually focus on likely voters and the length of the survey varies on the number of messages being tested. ''Brushfire polls'' are used for a number of purposes. First, it lets the candidate know if they have made any progress on the ballot, how much progress has been made, and in what demographics they have been making or losing ground. Secondly, it is a way for the campaign to test a variety of messages, both positive and negative, on themselves and their opponent(s). This lets the campaign know what messages work best with certain demographics and what messages should be avoided. Campaigns often use these polls to test possible attack messages that their opponent may use and potential responses to those attacks. The campaign can then spend some time preparing an effective response to any likely attacks. Thirdly, this kind of poll can be used by candidates or political parties to convince primary challengers to drop out of a race and support a stronger candidate.


Tracking polls

A ''tracking poll'' or ''rolling poll'' is a poll in which responses are obtained in a number of consecutive periods, for instance daily, and then results are calculated using a
moving average In statistics, a moving average (rolling average or running average) is a calculation to analyze data points by creating a series of averages of different subsets of the full data set. It is also called a moving mean (MM) or rolling mean and is ...
of the responses that were gathered over a fixed number of the most recent periods, for example the past five days. In this example, the next calculated results will use data for five days counting backwards from the next day, namely the same data as before, but with the data from the next day included, and without the data from the sixth day before that day. However, these polls are sometimes subject to dramatic fluctuations, and so political campaigns and candidates are cautious in analyzing their results. An example of a tracking poll that generated controversy over its accuracy, is one conducted during the 2000 U.S. presidential election, by the
Gallup Organization Gallup, Inc. is an American analytics and advisory company based in Washington, D.C. Founded by George Gallup in 1935, the company became known for its public opinion poll An opinion poll, often simply referred to as a poll or a survey, is a ...
. The results for one day showed
Democratic Democrat, Democrats, or Democratic may refer to: *A proponent of democracy Democracy ( gr, δημοκρατία, ''dēmokratiā'', from ''dēmos'' 'people' and ''kratos'' 'rule') is a form of government in which people, the people have the a ...
candidate
Al Gore Albert Arnold Gore Jr. (born March 31, 1948) is an American politician and environmentalist who served as the 45th vice president of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Gore was Bill Clinton's running mate in their Bill Clinton presidential ...

Al Gore
with an eleven-point lead over
Republican Republican can refer to: Political ideology * An advocate of a republic, a type of government that is not a monarchy or dictatorship, and is usually associated with the rule of law. ** Republicanism, the ideology in support of republics or against ...
candidate
George W. Bush George Walker Bush (born July 6, 1946) is an American politician and businessman who served as the 43rd president of the United States The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and head of government of the Un ...

George W. Bush
. Then, a subsequent poll conducted just two days later showed Bush ahead of Gore by seven points. It was soon determined that the volatility of the results was at least in part due to an uneven distribution of Democratic and Republican affiliated voters in the samples. Though the
Gallup Organization Gallup, Inc. is an American analytics and advisory company based in Washington, D.C. Founded by George Gallup in 1935, the company became known for its public opinion poll An opinion poll, often simply referred to as a poll or a survey, is a ...
argued the volatility in the poll was a genuine representation of the electorate, other polling organizations took steps to reduce such wide variations in their results. One such step included manipulating the proportion of Democrats and Republicans in any given sample, but this method is subject to controversy.


Potential for inaccuracy

Over time, a number of theories and mechanisms have been offered to explain erroneous polling results. Some of these reflect errors on the part of the pollsters; many of them are statistical in nature. Others blame the respondents for not giving candid answers (''e.g.'', the
Bradley effect The Bradley effect (less commonly the Wilder effect) is a theory concerning observed discrepancies between voter opinion polls and election outcomes in some United States government elections where a white White is the lightest color ...
, the Shy Tory Factor); these can be more controversial.


Margin of error due to sampling

Polls based on samples of populations are subject to
sampling errorIn statistics Statistics is the discipline that concerns the collection, organization, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data. In applying statistics to a scientific, industrial, or social problem, it is conventional to begin with a ...
which reflects the effects of chance and uncertainty in the sampling process. Sampling polls rely on the to measure the opinions of the whole population based only on a subset, and for this purpose the absolute size of the sample is important, but the percentage of the whole population is not important (unless it happens to be close to the sample size). The possible difference between the sample and whole population is often expressed as a
margin of error The margin of error is a statistic expressing the amount of random sampling errorIn statistics Statistics is the discipline that concerns the collection, organization, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data. In applying statis ...
- usually defined as the radius of a 95% confidence interval for a particular statistic. One example is the percent of people who prefer product A versus product B. When a single, global margin of error is reported for a survey, it refers to the maximum margin of error for all reported percentages using the full sample from the survey. If the statistic is a percentage, this maximum margin of error can be calculated as the radius of the confidence interval for a reported percentage of 50%. Others suggest that a poll with a random sample of 1,000 people has margin of sampling error of ±3% for the estimated percentage of the whole population. A 3% margin of error means that if the same procedure is used a large number of times, 95% of the time the true population average will be within the sample estimate plus or minus 3%. The margin of error can be reduced by using a larger sample, however if a pollster wishes to reduce the margin of error to 1% they would need a sample of around 10,000 people. In practice, pollsters need to balance the cost of a large sample against the reduction in sampling error and a sample size of around 500–1,000 is a typical compromise for political polls. (Note that to get complete responses it may be necessary to include thousands of additional participators.) Another way to reduce the margin of error is to rely on poll averages. This makes the assumption that the procedure is similar enough between many different polls and uses the sample size of each poll to create a polling average. An example of a polling average can be found here
2008 Presidential Election polling average
Another source of error stems from faulty demographic models by pollsters who weigh their samples by particular variables such as party identification in an election. For example, if you assume that the breakdown of the US population by party identification has not changed since the previous presidential election, you may underestimate a victory or a defeat of a particular party candidate that saw a surge or decline in its party registration relative to the previous presidential election cycle. A caution is that an estimate of a trend is subject to a larger error than an estimate of a level. This is because if one estimates the change, the difference between two numbers ''X'' and ''Y,'' then one has to contend with errors in both ''X'' and ''Y''. A rough guide is that if the change in measurement falls outside the margin of error it is worth attention.


Nonresponse bias

Since some people do not answer calls from strangers, or refuse to answer the poll, poll samples may not be representative samples from a population due to a
non-response biasParticipation bias or non-response bias is a phenomenon in which the results of elections, studies, polls, etc. become non-representative because the participants disproportionately possess certain traits which affect the outcome. These traits mea ...
. Response rates have been declining, and are down to about 10% in recent years. Because of this
selection bias Selection bias is the bias introduced by the selection of individuals, groups or data for analysis in such a way that proper randomization is not achieved, thereby ensuring that the sample obtained is not representative of the population intended to ...
, the characteristics of those who agree to be interviewed may be markedly different from those who decline. That is, the actual sample is a biased version of the universe the pollster wants to analyze. In these cases, bias introduces new errors, one way or the other, that are in addition to errors caused by sample size. Error due to bias does not become smaller with larger sample sizes, because taking a larger sample size simply repeats the same mistake on a larger scale. If the people who refuse to answer, or are never reached, have the same characteristics as the people who do answer, then the final results should be unbiased. If the people who do not answer have different opinions then there is bias in the results. In terms of election polls, studies suggest that bias effects are small, but each polling firm has its own techniques for adjusting weights to minimize selection bias.


Response bias

Survey results may be affected by
response bias Response bias is a general term for a wide range of tendencies for participants to respond inaccurately or falsely to questions. These biases are prevalent in research involving participant self-report, such as structured interviews or statistical ...
, where the answers given by respondents do not reflect their true beliefs. This may be deliberately engineered by unscrupulous pollsters in order to generate a certain result or please their clients, but more often is a result of the detailed wording or ordering of questions (see below). Respondents may deliberately try to manipulate the outcome of a poll by e.g. advocating a more extreme position than they actually hold in order to boost their side of the argument or give rapid and ill-considered answers in order to hasten the end of their questioning. Respondents may also feel under social pressure not to give an unpopular answer. For example, respondents might be unwilling to admit to unpopular attitudes like
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, and thus polls might not reflect the true incidence of these attitudes in the population. In American political parlance, this phenomenon is often referred to as the
Bradley effect The Bradley effect (less commonly the Wilder effect) is a theory concerning observed discrepancies between voter opinion polls and election outcomes in some United States government elections where a white White is the lightest color ...
. If the results of surveys are widely publicized this effect may be magnified - a phenomenon commonly referred to as the
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. Use of the
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(select only one candidate) in a poll puts an unintentional bias into the poll, since people who favor more than one candidate cannot indicate this. The fact that they must choose only one candidate biases the poll, causing it to favor the candidate most different from the others while it disfavors candidates who are similar to other candidates. The
plurality voting system Plurality voting is an electoral system in which a candidate, or candidates, who poll more than any other counterpart (that is, receive a plurality (voting), plurality), are elected. In a system based on single-member districts, it elects just ...
also biases elections in the same way. Some people responding may not understand the words being used, but may wish to avoid the embarrassment of admitting this, or the poll mechanism may not allow clarification, so they may make an arbitrary choice. Some percentage of people also answer whimsically or out of annoyance at being polled. This results in perhaps 4% of Americans reporting they have personally been
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Wording of questions

Among the factors that impact the results of Opinion Polls, are the wording and order of the questions being posed by the surveyor. Questions that intentionally affect a respondents answer are referred to as leading questions. Individuals and/or groups use these types of questions in surveys to elicit responses favorable to their interests. For instance, the public is more likely to indicate support for a person who is described by the surveyor as one of the "leading candidates." This description is "leading" as it indicates a subtle bias for that candidate, since it implies that the others in the race are not serious contenders. Additionally, leading questions often contain, or lack, certain facts that can sway a respondent's answer. Argumentative Questions can also impact the outcome of a survey. These types of questions, depending on their nature, either positive or negative, influence respondents’ answers to reflect the tone of the question(s) and generate a certain response or reaction, rather than gauge sentiment in an unbiased manner. In opinion polling, there are also " loaded questions," otherwise known as " trick questions." This type of leading question may concern an uncomfortable or controversial issue, and/or automatically assume the subject of the question is related to the respondent(s) or that they are knowledgeable about it. Likewise, the questions are then worded in a way that limit the possible answers, typically to yes or no. Another type of question that can produce inaccurate results are "
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Questions." These are more often the result of human error, rather than intentional manipulation. One such example is a survey done in 1992 by the Roper Organization, concerning the
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. The question read "Does it seem possible or impossible to you that the
Nazi Nazism ( ), officially National Socialism (german: Nationalsozialismus, ), is the ideology An ideology () is a set of belief A belief is an Attitude (psychology), attitude that something is the case, or that some proposition about th ...
extermination of the Jews never happened?" The confusing wording of this question led to inaccurate results which indicated that 22 percent of respondents believed it seemed possible the Holocaust might not have ever happened. When the question was reworded, significantly fewer respondents (only 1 percent) expressed that same sentiment. Thus comparisons between polls often boil down to the wording of the question. On some issues, question wording can result in quite pronounced differences between surveys. This can also, however, be a result of legitimately conflicted feelings or evolving attitudes, rather than a poorly constructed survey. A common technique to control for this bias is to rotate the order in which questions are asked. Many pollsters also split-sample. This involves having two different versions of a question, with each version presented to half the respondents. The most effective controls, used by
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researchers, are: * asking enough questions to allow all aspects of an issue to be covered and to control effects due to the form of the question (such as positive or negative wording), the adequacy of the number being established quantitatively with
psychometric Psychometrics is a field of study within psychology concerned with the theory and technique of measurement. Psychometrics generally refers to specialized fields within psychology and education devoted to testing, measurement, assessment, and ...
measures such as reliability coefficients, and * analyzing the results with psychometric techniques which synthesize the answers into a few reliable scores and detect ineffective questions. These controls are not widely used in the polling industry.. However, as it is important that questions to test the product have a high quality, survey methodologists work on methods to test them. Empirical tests provide insight into the quality of the questionnaire, some may be more complex than others. For instance, testing a questionnaire can be done by: * conducting cognitive interviewing. By asking a sample of potential-respondents about their interpretation of the questions and use of the questionnaire, a researcher can * carrying out a small pretest of the questionnaire, using a small subset of target respondents. Results can inform a researcher of errors such as missing questions, or logical and procedural errors. * estimating the measurement quality of the questions. This can be done for instance using test-retest, quasi-simplex, or mutlitrait-multimethod models. * predicting the measurement quality of the question. This can be done using the software Survey Quality Predictor (SQP).


Involuntary facades and false correlations

One of the criticisms of opinion polls is that societal assumptions that opinions between which there is no logical link are "correlated attitudes" can push people with one opinion into a group that forces them to pretend to have a supposedly linked but actually unrelated opinion. That, in turn, may cause people who have the first opinion to claim on polls that they have the second opinion without having it, causing opinion polls to become part of
self-fulfilling prophecy A self-fulfilling prophecy is the sociopsychological phenomenon of someone "predicting" or expecting something, and this "prediction" or expectation Expectation or Expectations may refer to: Science * Expectation (epistemic) * Expected value, in ...
problems. It has been suggested that attempts to counteract unethical opinions by condemning supposedly linked opinions may favor the groups that promote the actually unethical opinions by forcing people with supposedly linked opinions into them by ostracism elsewhere in society making such efforts counterproductive, that not being sent between groups that assume ulterior motives from each other and not being allowed to express consistent critical thought anywhere may create psychological stress because humans are sapient, and that discussion spaces free from assumptions of ulterior motives behind specific opinions should be created. In this context, rejection of the assumption that opinion polls show actual links between opinions is considered important.


Coverage bias

Another source of error is the use of samples that are not representative of the population as a consequence of the methodology used, as was the experience of ''The Literary Digest'' in 1936. For example, telephone sampling has a built-in error because in many times and places, those with telephones have generally been richer than those without. In some places many people have only
mobile telephone A mobile phone, cellular phone, cell phone, cellphone, handphone, or hand phone, sometimes shortened to simply mobile, cell or just phone, is a portable telephone A telephone is a telecommunications Appliance (disambiguation), devic ...
s. Because pollsters cannot use automated dialing machines to call mobile phones in the United States (because the phone's owner may be charged for taking a call), these individuals are typically excluded from polling samples. There is concern that, if the subset of the population without cell phones differs markedly from the rest of the population, these differences can skew the results of the poll. Polling organizations have developed many weighting techniques to help overcome these deficiencies, with varying degrees of success. Studies of mobile phone users by the Pew Research Center in the US, in 2007, concluded that "cell-only respondents are different from landline respondents in important ways, (but) they were neither numerous enough nor different enough on the questions we examined to produce a significant change in overall general population survey estimates when included with the landline samples and weighted according to US Census parameters on basic demographic characteristics." This issue was first identified in 2004, but came to prominence only during the 2008
US presidential election The election of the president and the vice president of the United States is an indirect election in which Citizenship of the United States, citizens of the United States who are Voter registration in the United States, registered to vote in on ...
. In previous elections, the proportion of the general population using cell phones was small, but as this proportion has increased, there is concern that polling only landlines is no longer representative of the general population. In 2003, only 2.9% of households were wireless (cellphones only), compared to 12.8% in 2006. This results in "
coverage error Coverage error is a type of non-sampling errorIn statistics Statistics is the discipline that concerns the collection, organization, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data. In applying statistics to a scientific, industrial, or so ...
". Many polling organisations select their sample by dialling random telephone numbers; however, in 2008, there was a clear tendency for polls which included mobile phones in their samples to show a much larger lead for
Obama Barack Hussein Obama II ( ; born August 4, 1961) is an American politician and attorney who served as the 44th president of the United States The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and head of government of ...

Obama
, than polls that did not. The potential sources of bias are: # Some households use cellphones only and have no landline. This tends to include minorities and younger voters; and occurs more frequently in metropolitan areas. Men are more likely to be cellphone-only compared to women. # Some people may not be contactable by landline from Monday to Friday and may be contactable only by cellphone. # Some people use their landlines only to access the Internet, and answer calls only to their cellphones. Some polling companies have attempted to get around that problem by including a "cellphone supplement". There are a number of problems with including cellphones in a telephone poll: # It is difficult to get co-operation from cellphone users, because in many parts of the US, users are charged for both outgoing and incoming calls. That means that pollsters have had to offer financial compensation to gain co-operation. # US federal law prohibits the use of automated dialling devices to call cellphones (
Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) was passed by the United States Congress The United States Congress is the legislature of the federal government of the United States. It is Bicameralism, bicameral, comprising a lower b ...
). Numbers therefore have to be dialled by hand, which is more time-consuming and expensive for pollsters.


1992 UK general election

An oft-quoted example of opinion polls succumbing to errors occurred during the 1992 UK general election. Despite the polling organizations using different methodologies, virtually all the polls taken before the vote, and to a lesser extent,
exit poll An election exit poll is a poll Poll, polled, or polling may refer to: Figurative head counts * Poll, a formal election ** Election verification exit poll, a survey taken to verify election counts ** Exit poll, a survey of voters taken imm ...
s taken on voting day, showed a lead for the opposition Labour party, but the actual vote gave a clear victory to the ruling Conservative party. In their deliberations after this embarrassment the pollsters advanced several ideas to account for their errors, including: ; Late
swing Swing or swinging may refer to: Apparatus * Swing (seat), a hanging seat that swings back and forth * Russian swing, a swing-like circus apparatus * Sex swing, a type of harness for sexual intercourse * Swing ride, an amusement park ride consistin ...
: Voters who changed their minds shortly before voting tended to favour the Conservatives, so the error was not as great as it first appeared. ; Nonresponse bias : Conservative voters were less likely to participate in surveys than in the past and were thus under-represented. ; The Shy Tory Factor : The Conservatives had suffered a sustained period of unpopularity as a result of economic difficulties and a series of minor scandals, leading to a
spiral of silenceThe spiral of silence theory is a political science Political science is the scientific study of politics. It is a social science dealing with systems of governance and power, and the analysis of politics, political activities, political thoughts, ...
in which some Conservative supporters were reluctant to disclose their sincere intentions to pollsters. The relative importance of these factors was, and remains, a matter of controversy, but since then the polling organizations have adjusted their methodologies and have achieved more accurate results in subsequent election campaigns. A comprehensive discussion of these biases and how they should be understood and mitigated is included in several sources including Dillman and Salant (1994).


Failures

A widely publicized failure of opinion polling to date in the
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United States
was the prediction that
Thomas Dewey Thomas Edmund Dewey (March 24, 1902 – March 16, 1971) was an American lawyer, prosecutor and politician. Raised in Owosso, Michigan Owosso is the largest city in Shiawassee County, Michigan, Shiawassee County in the U.S. state of Michigan. Th ...

Thomas Dewey
would defeat
Harry S. Truman Harry S. Truman (May 8, 1884December 26, 1972) was the 33rd president of the United States The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and head of government of the United States of America. The president directs th ...

Harry S. Truman
in the 1948 US presidential election. Major polling organizations, including Gallup and Roper, indicated a landslide victory for Dewey. There were also substantial polling errors in the presidential elections of 1952, 1980, 1996, 2000, and 2016. In the United Kingdom, most polls failed to predict the Conservative election victories of
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and
1992 1992 was designated as: * International Space YearThe International Space Year (ISY) was 1992, the year of the quincentenary of Christopher Columbus Christopher Columbus * lij, Cristoffa C(or)ombo * es, Cristóbal Colón * pt, C ...
, and Labour's victory in February 1974. In the 2015 election virtually every poll predicted a hung parliament with Labour and the Conservatives neck and neck when the actual result was a clear Conservative majority. On the other hand, in
2017 2017 was designated as International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development2017 was declared as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development by the United Nations General Assembly on 4 December 2015 relating to sustainab ...
, the opposite appears to have occurred. Most polls predicted an increased Conservative majority, even though in reality the election resulted in a hung parliament with a Conservative plurality. However, some polls correctly predicted this outcome. In New Zealand, the polls leading up to the
1993 general election 1993 was designated as: * International Year for the World's Indigenous People The year 1993 in the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands only had 364 days when its calendar advanced 24 hours to the Eastern Hemisphere side of the Internatio ...
predicted a comfortable win to the governing National Party. However, the preliminary results on election night showed a hung parliament with National one seat short of a majority, leading to prime minister
Jim Bolger James Brendan Bolger ( ; born 31 May 1935) is a retired List of New Zealand politicians, New Zealand politician of the New Zealand National Party, National Party who was the 35th prime minister of New Zealand, serving from 1990 to 1997. Bolge ...

Jim Bolger
exclaiming "bugger the pollsters" on national television. The official count saw National pick up
Waitaki Waitaki District is a Territorial authorities of New Zealand, territorial authority that is located in the Canterbury, New Zealand, Canterbury and Otago regions of the South Island of New Zealand. It straddles the traditional border between the tw ...
to hold a one-seat majority and reform the government.


Social media as a source of opinion on candidates

Social media today is a popular medium for the candidates to campaign and for gauging the public reaction to the campaigns. Social media can also be used as an indicator of the voter opinion regarding the poll. Some research studies have shown that predictions made using social media signals can match traditional opinion polls. Regarding the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a major concern has been that of the effect of false stories spread throughout social media. Evidence shows that social media plays a huge role in the supplying of news: 62 percent of US adults get news on social media. This fact makes the issue of fake news on social media more pertinent. Other evidence shows that the most popular fake news stories were more widely shared on Facebook than the most popular mainstream news stories; many people who see fake news stories report that they believe them; and the most discussed fake news stories tended to favor Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. As a result of these facts, some have concluded that if not for these stories, Donald Trump may not have won the election over Hillary Clinton.


Influence


Effect on voters

By providing information about voting intentions, opinion polls can sometimes influence the behavior of electors, and in his book '' The Broken Compass'',
Peter Hitchens Peter Jonathan Hitchens (born 28 October 1951) is an English journalist and author. Hitchens writes for ''The Mail on Sunday ''The Mail on Sunday'' is a British Conservatism, conservative newspaper, published in a tabloid (newspaper format ...
asserts that opinion polls are actually a device for influencing public opinion. The various theories about how this happens can be split into two groups: bandwagon/underdog effects, and strategic ("tactical") voting. A
bandwagon effect The bandwagon effect is the tendency of an individual to acquire a particular style, behaviour or attitude because everyone else is doing it. It is a phenomenon whereby the rate of uptake of beliefs, ideas, fads and trends#REDIRECT Flavin adenine ...
occurs when the poll prompts voters to back the candidate shown to be winning in the poll. The idea that voters are susceptible to such effects is old, stemming at least from 1884;
William Safire William Lewis Safire (; Safir; December 17, 1929 – September 27, 2009Safire, William (1986). ''Take My Word for It: More on Language.'' Times Books. . p. 185.) was an American author, columnist, journalist, and presidential speechwriter A spe ...
reported that the term was first used in a political cartoon in the magazine '' Puck'' in that year. It has also remained persistent in spite of a lack of empirical corroboration until the late 20th century.
George Gallup George Horace Gallup (November 18, 1901 – July 26, 1984) was an American pioneer of survey sampling techniques and inventor of the Gallup poll, a successful statistics, statistical method of survey sampling for measuring opinion polls, publi ...

George Gallup
spent much effort in vain trying to discredit this theory in his time by presenting empirical research. A recent meta-study of scientific research on this topic indicates that from the 1980s onward the Bandwagon effect is found more often by researchers.Irwin, Galen A. and Joop J. M. Van Holsteyn. ''Bandwagons, Underdogs, the Titanic and the Red Cross: The Influence of Public Opinion Polls on Voters'' (2000). The opposite of the bandwagon effect is the
underdog An underdog is a person or group in a competition, usually in sport Sport pertains to any form of Competition, competitive physical activity or game that aims to use, maintain or improve physical ability and skills while providing enjoymen ...
effect. It is often mentioned in the media. This occurs when people vote, out of sympathy, for the party perceived to be "losing" the elections. There is less empirical evidence for the existence of this effect than there is for the existence of the bandwagon effect. The second category of theories on how polls directly affect voting is called strategic or
tactical voting In voting system, voting methods, tactical voting (or strategic voting, sophisticated voting or insincere voting) occurs in elections with more than two candidates, when a voter supports another candidate more strongly than their ''sincere prefer ...
. This theory is based on the idea that voters view the act of voting as a means of selecting a government. Thus they will sometimes not choose the candidate they prefer on ground of ideology or sympathy, but another, less-preferred, candidate from strategic considerations. An example can be found in the
1997 United Kingdom general election The 1997 United Kingdom general election was held on 1 May 1997. The incumbent governing Conservative Party Conservative Party may refer to: Europe Current *Croatian Conservative Party, *Conservative Party (Czech Republic) *Conservative Pe ...
. As he was then a Cabinet Minister,
Michael Portillo Michael Denzil Xavier Portillo (born 26 May 1953) is a British journalist, broadcaster and former politician known for presenting ''Great British Railway Journeys'' and ''Great Continental Railway Journeys''. A former member of the Conservative ...

Michael Portillo
's constituency of Enfield Southgate was believed to be a
safe seat A safe seat is an electoral district An electoral district, also known as an election district, legislative district, voting district, constituency, riding, ward, division, (election) precinct, electoral area, circumscription, or electorate, i ...
but opinion polls showed the
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candidate
Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg (born 25 December 1966) is a British Labour Co-op politician who was Member of Parliament A member of parliament (MP) is the representative of the people who live in their constituency. In many countries with Bicameralism, bic ...

Stephen Twigg
steadily gaining support, which may have prompted undecided voters or supporters of other parties to support Twigg in order to remove Portillo. Another example is the boomerang effect where the likely supporters of the candidate shown to be winning feel that chances are slim and that their vote is not required, thus allowing another candidate to win. In addition, Mark Pickup, in Cameron Anderson and Laura Stephenson's ''Voting Behaviour in Canada'', outlines three additional "behavioural" responses that voters may exhibit when faced with polling data. The first is known as a "cue taking" effect which holds that poll data is used as a "proxy" for information about the candidates or parties. Cue taking is "based on the psychological phenomenon of using heuristics to simplify a complex decision" (243). The second, first described by Petty and Cacioppo (1996), is known as "cognitive response" theory. This theory asserts that a voter's response to a poll may not line with their initial conception of the electoral reality. In response, the voter is likely to generate a "mental list" in which they create reasons for a party's loss or gain in the polls. This can reinforce or change their opinion of the candidate and thus affect voting behaviour. Third, the final possibility is a "behavioural response" which is similar to a cognitive response. The only salient difference is that a voter will go and seek new information to form their "mental list", thus becoming more informed of the election. This may then affect voting behaviour. These effects indicate how opinion polls can directly affect political choices of the electorate. But directly or indirectly, other effects can be surveyed and analyzed on all political parties. The form of media framing and party ideology shifts must also be taken under consideration. Opinion polling in some instances is a measure of cognitive bias, which is variably considered and handled appropriately in its various applications.


Effect on politicians

Starting in the 1980s, tracking polls and related technologies began having a notable impact on U.S. political leaders. According to Douglas Bailey, a Republican who had helped run
Gerald Ford Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr. ( ; born Leslie Lynch King Jr.; July 14, 1913December 26, 2006) was an American politician who served as the 38th president of the United States The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state ...

Gerald Ford
's 1976 presidential campaign, "It's no longer necessary for a political candidate to guess what an audience thinks. He can ind outwith a nightly tracking poll. So it's no longer likely that political leaders are going to lead. Instead, they're going to follow."


Regulation

Some jurisdictions over the world restrict the publication of the results of opinion polls, especially during the period around an election, in order to prevent the possibly erroneous results from affecting voters' decisions. For instance, in Canada, it is prohibited to publish the results of opinion surveys that would identify specific political parties or candidates in the final three days before a poll closes. However, most Western democratic nations do not support the entire prohibition of the publication of pre-election opinion polls; most of them have no regulation and some only prohibit it in the final days or hours until the relevant poll closes. A survey by Canada's Royal Commission on Electoral Reform reported that the prohibition period of publication of the survey results largely differed in different countries. Out of the 20 countries examined, 3 prohibit the publication during the entire period of campaigns, while others prohibit it for a shorter term such as the polling period or the final 48 hours before a poll closes. In India, the Election Commission has prohibited it in the 48 hours before the start of polling.


See also

* Deliberative opinion poll * Entrance poll * Electoral geography * Europe Elects * Everett Carll Ladd * Exit poll * Historical polling for U.S. Presidential elections * List of polling organizations * Metallic Metals Act * Open access poll * Psephology * Political analyst * data science, Political data scientists * Political forecasting * Push poll * Referendum * Roper Center for Public Opinion Research * Sample size determination * Straw poll * Swing (politics) * Types of democracy


Footnotes


References

* Asher, Herbert: ''Polling and the Public. What Every Citizen Should Know'' (4th ed. CQ Press, 1998) * Pierre Bourdieu, Bourdieu, Pierre, "Public Opinion does not exist" in ''Sociology in Question'', London, Sage (1995). * Bradburn, Norman M. and Seymour Sudman. ''Polls and Surveys: Understanding What They Tell Us'' (1988). * Cantril, Hadley. ''Gauging Public Opinion'' (1944
online
* Hadley Cantril, Cantril, Hadley and Mildred Strunk, eds. ''Public Opinion, 1935–1946'' (1951), massive compilation of many public opinion poll
online
* Converse, Jean M. ''Survey Research in the United States: Roots and Emergence 1890-1960'' (1987), the standard history.
Crespi, Irving. ''Public Opinion, Polls, and Democracy'' (1989)
* Gallup, George. ''Public Opinion in a Democracy'' (1939). * Gallup, Alec M. ed. ''The Gallup Poll Cumulative Index: Public Opinion, 1935-1997'' (1999) lists 10,000+ questions, but no results. * Gallup, George Horace, ed. ''The Gallup Poll; Public Opinion, 1935-1971'' 3 vol (1972) summarizes results of each poll. * Geer, John Gray. ''Public opinion and polling around the world: a historical encyclopedia'' (2 vol. Abc-clio, 2004)
Glynn, Carroll J., Susan Herbst, Garrett J. O'Keefe, and Robert Y. Shapiro. ''Public Opinion'' (1999)
textbook
Lavrakas, Paul J. et al. eds. ''Presidential Polls and the News Media'' (1995)

Moore, David W. ''The Superpollsters: How They Measure and Manipulate Public Opinion in America'' (1995)

Niemi, Richard G., John Mueller, Tom W. Smith, eds. ''Trends in Public Opinion: A Compendium of Survey Data'' (1989)

Oskamp, Stuart and P. Wesley Schultz; ''Attitudes and Opinions'' (2004)
* Robinson, Claude E. ''Straw Votes'' (1932). * Robinson, Matthew ''Mobocracy: How the Media's Obsession with Polling Twists the News, Alters Elections, and Undermines Democracy'' (2002).
Rogers, Lindsay. ''The Pollsters: Public Opinion, Politics, and Democratic Leadership'' (1949)

Traugott, Michael W. ''The Voter's Guide to Election Polls''
3rd ed. (2004). * James G. Webster, Patricia F. Phalen, Lawrence W. Lichty; ''Ratings Analysis: The Theory and Practice of Audience Research'' Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000.
Young, Michael L. ''Dictionary of Polling: The Language of Contemporary Opinion Research'' (1992)


Additional sources

* Brodie, Mollyann, et al. "The Past, Present, And Possible Future Of Public Opinion On The ACA: A review of 102 nationally representative public opinion polls about the Affordable Care Act, 2010 through 2019." ''Health Affairs'' 39.3 (2020): 462–470. * Dyczok, Marta. "Information wars: hegemony, counter-hegemony, propaganda, the use of force, and resistance." ''Russian Journal of Communication'' 6#2 (2014): 173–176. * Eagly, Alice H., et al. "Gender stereotypes have changed: A cross-temporal meta-analysis of US public opinion polls from 1946 to 2018." ''American psychologist'' 75.3 (2020): 301+
online
* Fernández-Prados, Juan Sebastián, Cristina Cuenca-Piqueras, and María José González-Moreno. "International public opinion surveys and public policy in Southern European democracies." ''Journal of International and Comparative Social Policy'' 35.2 (2019): 227–237
online
* Kang, Liu, and Yun-Han Chu. "China's Rise through World Public Opinion: Editorial Introduction." ''Journal of Contemporary China'' 24.92 (2015): 197–202; polls in US and China * * Murphy, Joe, et al. "Social Media in Public Opinion Research: Report of the AAPOR Task Force on Emerging Technologies in Public Opinion Research." ''American Association for Public Opinion Research'' (2014)
online


External links



from ''UCB Libraries GovPubs''
The Pew Research Center
nonpartisan "fact tank" providing information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world by conducting public opinion polling and social science research
National Council on Public Polls
association of polling organizations in the United States devoted to setting high professional standards for surveys {{Authority control Polling, Types of polling Survey methodology Public opinion Sampling (statistics) Pollsters, Surveys (human research), *