THE BLOG
08/07/2014 03:34 pm ET Updated Oct 07, 2014

How should you read political polls?

It's not just campaign season. It's political polling season. We were hit with a handful last week and the results were quite different. Why? What gives? What do we need to consider when we hear about polls?

Polling is part science and part modeling guesswork.

Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek took a look at nine things to remember to be a savvy political poll reader.

Last week, Reboot Illinois commissioned an automated poll of the governor's race that showed Rauner ahead by a significant margin. An interview poll commissioned by the Illinois Education Association showed a tighter race, as did a new kind of online poll taken by YouGov with The New York Times and CBS News that since has been criticized by the American Association for Public Opinion Research. The online poll included more than 100,000 respondents and covered contests nationwide. Obviously, it wouldn't reach voters without Internet access.

Gregg Durham, chief operating officer for We Ask America, which has done polling for both Reboot Illinois and the Chicago Sun-Times, says what type of polling is being conducted is just one thing people should keep in mind when they read about polling. What are the others?

1. Who's paying for it? Is it a poll paid for by a nonpartisan media firm or one pushing opposition research paid for by a candidate?

2. What's tough to predict? This year, Illinois Democrats have loaded the ballot with questions to compel their supporters to vote. Will it work? How well? Will Rauner's big, get-out-the-vote effort counteract this enough? Pollsters try to model their respondents to mirror Election Day turnout, but who votes this fall is an educated guess. Primary polling is always more challenging because turnout is tough to gauge and it keeps declining. It was especially so this year because pollsters weren't sure how effective unions would be at getting Democrats to take Republican ballots. Turns out they were pretty effective.

3. Automated polls like those We Ask America does are good for simple questions like "For whom would you vote today?"

4. Live interview polls are good for more complex questions like "Why are you voting for Candidate X?" Those polls tend to take days to get a scientific sample and lots of news can break, changing some minds.

5. Online polling might be the future. It's interesting, in part, because it allows pollsters to track the same people over time.

See the other four things you should keep in the back of your mind when reading political poll results at Reboot Illinois.

July 2014 Reboot Illinois/We Ask America polls:
Bruce Rauner's lead grows in Illinois governor's race; voters warm to his tax plan
Lisa Madigan up 17 points in bid for fourth term as Illinois attorney general
Illinois secretary of state poll: Jesse White continues domination
Illinois U.S. Senate poll: Dick Durbin maintains lead in bid for fourth term
Illinois treasurer's poll: Name recognition pays off for Tom Cross
Illinois comptroller's race poll: Judy Baar Topinka widens lead, picks up Dem support