Can you trust polling results? Good Polls vs. Bad Polls

It seems in the midst of Alaska’s budget crisis, we’re hearing a great deal about polling from various groups in Alaska. These polls are often intended to drive policy makers in one direction or another as determined by the polling results. But what makes a good poll? How are Alaskans to know whether they can trust a poll or not?

As Headlamp frequently stresses, accurate information is key to making good decisions. As lawmakers face a number of fiscal and political challenges, accurately knowing where the public aligns on issues matters.  But for every poll out there designed to provide a glimpse into the mind of the voter, there is one intended to skew the information and provide a specific outcome.

When you read polls, here are some questions you should be asking:

  • Who conducted the poll?
  • Who paid for the poll?
  • Who was sampled?
  • Is the sample population representative and randomly selected?
  • What is the sampling error?
  • How is the question worded?
  • How are the questions ordered?

Unfortunately, results from flawed polls are being widely touted as accurate representations of the Alaskan public’s opinion concerning our state’s fiscal crisis. Such actions don’t help foster an open and honest dialogue needed during these difficult budget discussions. For example, recent polls claim majority support for the governor’s plan, but used vague and sometimes leading questions, while another had questionable sampling and is being widely touted as representative. Lawmakers, and the public, need to be confident in the results of polls if they are to be used to craft meaningful answers to our budget situation.

Up next: Representative Sampling – why it’s important