What Polls are Used For?

Have you been curious to start campaign polling, but aren’t sure what to look for in a pollster?

Have you been curious to start campaign polling, but aren’t sure what to look for in a pollster? Maybe the idea of how a political poll even works is still a bit fuzzy, and you’d like some clarification about its importance before you invest any money toward conducting them. With those concerns in mind, we’ve taken the liberty to highlight some main points about who pollsters are and what they do.

Polls are used to survey and record the opinions, attitudes, and personal info of a group of individuals. Why is this important? Because having accurate polling results is a vital part of determining the messaging for your campaign. The pollster conducts survey research, analyzes the results and then interprets those results to fine-tune their candidate’s strategy for the upcoming elections. Without an idea of public thought (including their thoughts on the less favorable aspects of the candidate), the campaign will be less equipped to move forward and put the candidate in a positive light.


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Some polls are used to collect quantitative data (ie: “What’s your opinion toward this bill proposal? Pick one: unfavorable, somewhat  unfavorable, not sure, somewhat favorable, or favorable.”) Other polls collect qualitative data by asking open-ended questions and recording the respondent’s answers in their own words. There are several different types of polls, and all of them vary in sampling technique, breadth, and the information they are seeking to gain. Some common polls used in the USA are:

Tracking polls are short, small polls conducted daily among the same group of voters to track changes in voters’ perceptions, attitudes, and opinions about candidates at key periods in general elections or primaries. These polls are repeated at intervals averaged over a trailing window. A weekly tracking poll uses the data from the past week and discards the older data.

Straw polls are unofficial impromptu votes that are meant to provide a portrait of a political race before election day. Because they’re unofficial, they don’t count toward the final tally and instead are meant to give an impression of who may win the race. Straw polls also provide dialogue among movements within large groups. These ad hoc votes are taken to see if there’s enough support for an idea to devote more meeting time to it, and sometimes (when it’s not a secret ballot) so attendees can see who’s on which side of an issue. 

Baseline, or benchmark polls are conducted at the start of a campaign to establish a baseline of the voter’s opinion, perception, and knowledge of a political candidate. Sometimes it is conducted before a candidate announces his or her bid for office, and sometimes it’s conducted immediately after, which gives the candidate more time to raise funds. This is usually a short, simple survey of likely voters. 


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Exit Polls are surveys given to voters exiting polling stations on election day, to learn how they voted. These polls are only helpful in retrospect, because candidates can get an idea early on about who may win the election. These polls also help media outlets predict the final results before the close of the polls. Historically, exit polls have been used as a check against and rough indicator of the degree of election fraud, but these, too, carry a margin of error. In other words, they don’t always accurately forecast the actual results of the election. Exit polls have been criticized for providing a basis for potentially influencing election results by projecting winners before the real polls have closed. 

Brushfire polls are conducted to determine changes in voter sentiment during a race. These usually seek to measure a candidate’s popularity by checking “favorable” and “unfavorable” ratings. These are taken between baseline/benchmark polls and tracking polls.

Public opinion polls survey the opinions of respondents on several topics. They can gauge respondents’ disapproval and approval of public figures (whether it be celebrities or politicians), and opinions on issues like education and the environment.

Push polls are polls that lead the respondent toward a certain response. These polls seek to influence public  opinion. They’re an interactive marketing technique in which the campaign/organization tries to influence the view of respondents under the guise of conducting a legitimate poll.

Entrance polls are just like exit polls, except that they are taken right before voters cast their votes. The margin of error for these polls is lower than that of an opinion poll. 

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