Margins of Error

Friday, September 05, 2008


During the presidential campaign, media hang on the results of nearly every poll. But David Moore, former senior editor for the Gallup Poll, says polls inaccurately portray a consensus on issues the public often knows little or nothing about.

Comments [2]

Zachary Olivara from North of Philadelphia, PA

Thank you for this primer on polling. As a 26year old male who has no formal education in political science, I found the information mostly new to me. Thank you for this interview.

@ Robert Harris, if polls are not accurate reflections of the electoral college, aren't they still important windows to the workings of presidential politics? I reference the wonderful BBC documentary Eight People Sipping Wine in Kettering, (can be watched on YouTube) to illustrate that political strategy today is largely based around these opinion polls, and other more structured market research. From what I understand, polling data is vital for candidates to isolate particular opinion groups (mostly the swing voter), to which campaigns tailor their message to gain those votes.

Though to this I cede that our daily 'Horse Race' updates are not at all nuanced data, and fail as you have described.

Sep. 07 2008 09:45 PM
Robert Harris from North Jersey

Thank you for your story on improving presidential polling, "Margins of Error." But this and similar stories ignore the elephant in the room, namely that national polls are lousy tools for predicting the outcome of elections. With the Electoral College there are essentially 50 votes counted in the presidential election. A representative poll would ask the opinion of likely voters in each state, then project the outcome of the Electoral College. If our presidential electoral system counted one vote for one person the current polling system might have some relevance, but since it doesn't any intellectual ruminations about the finer points of the current polling system are irrelevant.

Sep. 07 2008 10:52 AM

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