How to read the midterm election polls

Each new poll generally adds more information to our understanding of public opinion. But there is a substantial amount of random variation in the polls in addition to differences in methodology – and one should be skeptical of surveys showing a result markedly different from other recent data.

It is possible that such a poll will pick up a significant shift in voter attitudes, though more often than not they will remain outliers. Poll averages are a useful solution to this, incorporating information from multiple polls while smoothing out bumps. But if most polls overestimate a party’s support, an average of polls may not correct that.

Finally, beware of polls sponsored by candidates or pressure groups. While these polls are sometimes conducted using quality methods, they are often selectively published when the results are beneficial to their preferred candidate, unlike independent polls commissioned by news organizations or other nonpartisan sponsors. ..


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