100 articles – ’20 Questions a Journalist Should Ask About Poll Results’

20 September 2011

Written by: Lawrie Zion

20 Questions A Journalist Should Ask About Poll Results‘ by Sheldon R. Gawiser and G. Evans Witt 

Polling has become a regular feature of modern journalism.

From rating how well liked our leaders are, to tracking public opinion on the days big stories, ‘the poll’ has become an integral tool for the modern journalist to fall back on.

This article from America’s National Council on Public Polls offers guidance on reporting polling data in the form of 20 questions reporters should ask of the pollster. 

The article reveals the many statistical weaknesses of different types of polls, giving particular focus to political reporting. It outlines what is required for a poll to be considered ‘scientific’ and thus a credible source of information.

Even the most prestigious poll can be read incorrectly.  From sampling errors, to the wording of the questions, the order they are asked in, not to mention the demographics of the interviewees, there is much to consider before journalists file their stories.

The poll is a powerful tool. In many ways its results can constitute a story in their own right, particularly when tracking support for our leaders. Knowing what constitutes a scientific poll can save the journalist from publishing misleading or incorrect information.

Michael Nolan is studying a Graduate Diploma in Journalism and is part of upstart’s editorial team.  You can follow him on Twitter: @MichaelNolan8.

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