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What Is Political Poll Data?

Political poll data measures public opinion and sentiment on politicians, candidates, issues, laws, and projects. Usually, however, it refers to public opinion about politicians.

Where Does Political Poll Data Come From?

Pollsters try to ask citizens and long-time residents of a country (or other area) about their opinion directly. They try to reach these potential respondents by phone, email, SMS, internet survey, and even in person.

Pollsters also try to measure public sentiment indirectly. For example, since the state of the economy influences voters, researchers measure public confidence in the economy as a proxy for voting intention. They may also record stock market data.

Another indirect source of data that researchers use to enrich their poll data includes news—especially news of political scandals.

However, new technologies have opened up new sources of political poll data. Researchers now track social media and keyword searches to track public interest in and sentiment toward politicians and policies.

While, again, this isn’t direct polling data, the information measured enriches it greatly, especially since this type of polling data is more difficult to accurately measure than others.

What Types of Columns/Attributes Should I Expect When Working with This Data?

There are many different types of political polls: opinion, baseline, brushfire (measuring changes in sentiment during a campaign), tracking (daily measurements), exit polls, and more. Some, especially the daily measurements, are more subject to fluctuation. Others are of more limited use, such as county polls measuring opinion on local matters that only the local representative need concern him or herself with.

Further, the data may divide respondents into region, demographic, party affiliation, or any other aspect the poll organizers deem important. However, no matter the type of poll, all political poll data identifies the publisher so with a bit of digging you can investigate every question asked by the poll, to whom, and when.

What Is This Data Used For?

The main purposes of political poll data are to conduct research on a population and to determine a course of action (for example, whether to stop running for office or support a change to a local ordinance).

Another common use of this data, however, is persuasion. So-called “push polls” are deliberate efforts at influencing political campaigns but the well-intentioned publication of political polls may also influence voter perception and behavior—though this effect has not been conclusively proven.

How Should I Test the Quality of Political Poll Data?

If you are measuring intention to vote or candidate preference, then the best test of your data is to wait for the results of an election. However, you can’t measure the accuracy of all political poll data via election results. For example, a certain policy issue may be widely unpopular but not to the level that many people vote against it.

Additionally, you may just not want to wait for election results to see if you measured quality data.

In general, political poll data quality should be the same as any other kind of poll or survey. That is, ensure that you have a representative sample of the population you are trying to measure and that the questions and interviewer don’t push for a certain answer.

However, political polls come with unique problems. First, sampling an accurate representation of an entire polity is much more difficult on scale alone. Second, there is a greater risk that respondents will answer poll questions with lies—especially if the political climate is very tense or violent. Researchers are working to find a solution to this problem. Some, for example, begin polls by asking whether people are comfortable expressing their views publicly while others ask whether respondents think their friends and family members will likely vote a certain way.

Interesting Case Studies and Blogs to Look Into

MIT Technology Review: Pollsters got it wrong in the 2016 election. Now they want another shot.
ResearchGate: How are Voters Influenced by Opinion Polls? The Effect of Polls on Voting Behavior and Party Sympathy

Tangible Examples of Impact

Unreliable polling “is why we started to develop API’s (application programming interfaces) for analysing what users do on the Internet in terms of searches,” he says. “These are small software packages that analyse, for example, what people really search for on Google, Twitter and Facebook.”

The second Swiss-led research team, Antonakis and Jacquart, developed a computer programme to evaluate a candidate’s charisma.

Swissinfo: Why two Swiss-led data models predict a Trump win

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