Avoiding polling fatigue

Josh Kraushaar of the National Journal wrote a column this week that sums up what confuses and frustrates many people — including, at times, me — about political polling.

More than anything else, polling drives political coverage in the media, especially when it comes to the presidential race. More than ever, the polls are provoking pundits to come up with misleading narratives to explain what’s happening. Combine many reporters’ distaste for math with a boatload of unreliable numbers, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

His primary beef, aside from talking heads drawing inept conclusions, is with polling firms that use robo-calls to gather data. Voters responding to automated calls tend to offer more negative feedback than if they had been contacted by live-caller pollsters, perhaps because they’re annoyed at being bothered by a robo-call. When respondents are unfamiliar with candidates, they tend to give them poor reviews—rather than simply say they’re undecided.

The Elon University Poll does several things differently.

* We use live-caller pollsters — Elon students, actually — who speak with the people who respond to the poll.

* Historically, we haven’t surveyed likely voters, which campaigns and the media prefer, because our interest hasn’t been to record who might win or lose at any given time. Instead, our intent is to reflect what all North Carolinians think. We hope that the state’s leaders will use the state’s residents’ preferences when setting policy.

* We don’t poll daily or even weekly. We poll three times each semester — no more frequently than monthly — so that we can watch longterm trends.

— John Robinson

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