Good polls, bad polls and real polls

With just over a week to go, what you might call “poll fever” is descending on the race for the White House – which polls should be trusted and why? Plus does it matter when real polling ie voting has already begun?

Tracking polls or polls where the same sample for example the same group of voters are followed over time to assess shifts in political preferences – are a vital tool in the pollsters arsenal. FiveThirtyEight.com has a great analysis of eight of the most in/famous tracking polls you may encounter and considers their various strengths and weaknesses.

Gallup analysts have been polling citizens from around the world and their analysis shows that residents of other countries favour Barack Obama by a nearly 4-to-1 margin, however the majority of those surveyed did not express an opinion on the subject.

So much for the perspective of the polling experts, what about an academic viewpoint? Well Stanford University are offering a course on the Geography of U.S. Presidential Elections over the next few weeks, with freely available lectures online – showing that the picture is much more complicated than headline poll numbers may imply and demonstrating that things have certainly changed a lot over time.

… and finally, there’s a timely reminder that early voting has already begun in many states, with estimates that over 30% of votes could be cast before election day – plus there’s no shortage of ways to vote with roadside access for disabled voters, absentee ballots (postal votes) for those who will be away from their home state and even drive through voting for fast food addicted voters!

Intute: Social Sciences features more resources on the issues of polling, voting and the US elections.

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