As any election approaches at any level of local, state, or federal government, citizens and candidates alike rely on polling to grade how the races are going. Advocates say that polls help keep the electorate informed and push campaigners to adjust their tactics by listening to the people. Opponents say the polls are often inaccurate or biased. Here are a few arguments for both sides.
Pro: Detailed Questions Paint an Accurate Picture
Most experts agree that when done properly, in-depth political polling is effective. But being done properly is essential. One way to ensure accuracy without spin is to make the questions detailed, without making them leading. While open-ended questions are helpful on dates and in jury trials, pollsters should stick to specific “yes/no” questions. For example, “Is unemployment a key deciding factor in your vote,” or “Do you support stricter border policies” will help paint an accurate picture.
Con: Sample Sizes
The inherent methodology of polling relies on some level of assumption and projection, which exposes it to inaccurate representation. When you see a poll that says “60% of New Yorkers favor (x) or (y),” you have to remember that means “60% of New Yorkers polled.” Not everyone in New York has been surveyed; it would be impossible to do so.
Con: Are People Being Honest?
Another disadvantage of political polling is that people may not honestly answer uncomfortable questions about hot-button issues like race relations, gun control, immigration, LGBTQ issues, or abortion. This is especially true if the survey is conducted in person. A voter may claim to not support a candidate who bombastically fights for or against one of these issues simply because they do not want to admit it publicly.
At the end of the day, however, there is no real substitute for polling, and it serves a necessary function in our democratic republic. The goal should always be to keep the questions detailed and unbiased with a significant sample size.