Who gets polled anyway?

The headlines all read “Obama Ahead in the Polls.” In fact, the polls currently suggest he has a seven-point lead nationwide. But who are these organizations polling? Who is commissioning the polls? I’ve never been polled to see who I’m voting for nor do I know anyone who has been. What are the chances that someone whose opinion was solicited in a poll actually turns out to vote on election day?

Not all of the polls you see represent the views of likely voters or even the views of registered voters. According to Gallup Daily, “Obama’s current advantage is slightly less when estimating the preferences of likely voters, which Gallup will begin reporting on a regular basis between now and the election.” The Gallup poll currently has Obama leading by seven points. The poll was calculated using the likelihood that someone will vote and on their past voting history (I must mention only 50% of those solicited were likely voters). Gallup warns that question wording may lead to errors or bias in its findings.

So how does this solicitation work? Do they call you and ask: “Are you planning on voting for Barack Obama?” Or “Who are you planning on voting for in November?” By asking the latter, you will be more likely to produce a neutral unbiased survey, however by hinting at one candidate’s name over the other, you are giving that candidate an advantage.

An article in Sunday’s New York Times by Kate Zernike, reverberates, “[pollsters] can’t be sure how accurately polls capture people’s feelings about race, or how forthcoming Americans are in talking about a black candidate.”

Former popular Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, according to many polls appeared the likely winner of California’s governorship. When the election was over, pollsters began using the term “Bradley effect” to explain the phenomenon that black candidates for high office have a more favorable response in poll results than in an actual secret ballot.

Thomas Prieto laid out a four-part article in the Miami Hurricane, identifying the results of the polls and how they indicated that Obama was going to win. But Mr. Prieto’s source, realclearpolitics.com, fails to identify who was being polled. Before you trust the accuracy of polls, make sure you can verify their sample questionnaire and the sample population.