Rely more on the real election
Throughout election campaigns,
pollsters seek to communicate public opinion. But polling can raise more
... How should voters, and those who communicate to them, interpret poll
. ..What role do polls play in voting behaviour? Does superficial analysis
... What is the methodology used?
... Are the polls designed to give genuine information - or to create
... Did the poll sample less people without landlines?
... Did the poll sample less people with poor grasp of English? - e.g.
are some migrants and some marginalised people not having their voices
... Did the increasing number of people who refused to answer affect the
poll's validity - e.g. would the opinions of those who would not answer
be similar to those who did answer?
... If only 30% of those asked to respond, do so, does this bias the result?
....Or is volatility in poll reports really reflect volatility in the
... When should the quantitative measure offered by opinion polls (e.g.
a phone call to your home at dinner time) be balanced by qualitiative
measures (e.g. a pre-planned focus group session)?
Factors such as the questions, timing and sample of polls can significantly
alter results. In assisting voters to understand what poll reports may
be doing to their judgement, it is important they be reminded to compare
only like polls – and to look for trends.
A case study: the
NZ 2005 general election
In the New Zealand 2005 general election the polls contradicted one another
In the final days of the campaign, a One News Colmar Brunton poll put
National six points ahead.
A New Zealand Herald DigiPoll gave Labour a lead of almost seven points.
A Fairfax New Zealand ACNielsen poll earlier gave National a six-point
lead. When Fairfax poll results were adjusted to include only those who
said they intended to vote, the poll results predicted the election night
result within its “margin for error”.
A TV3 TNS poll gave a possible one-seat lead to Labour – that poll,
at least, reflected the election night result.
Whilst individual polls gave different results to other polls
taken at about the same time, political analyst Colin James said the trend
in a "poll of polls" pointed to a similar result to that given
by the voters in the "poll that counts" - the election.
Reporter Simon Collins said he found that his interviews with many New
Zealanders pointed to North Islanders being more interest in Treaty of
Waitangi, migrant and with roading issues than were people in the South
Island. He found that older Labour Party voters had started to shift to
vote National, and that young people, attracted by Labour's student loan
policy, had tended towards Labour. "
Analysts and politicians sometimes use the quantitative and qualitative
information they get publicly and from private polls to shape their judgements
- an important factor in understanding how opinion polls work.
Updated 25 September