11/13/2007 02:55 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Making Sense of Polls

Are you drowning in a sea of horserace poll numbers? Can't distinguish the good from the bad and the truly ugly among opinion polls and surveys?

The American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR), in collaboration with the Poynter Institute's News University, is offering a way to evaluate and interpret the myriad of polls that define the landscape as we begin another season of presidential election primaries.

Although survey and poll results have been part of the fabric of American life since early in the 20th Century, the field is getting crowded. During the Presidential election cycle, journalists and the general public find themselves inundated with estimates on the who, what, where, and why of various election races. The number of polls grows in direct proportion to the tightness of the various races.

"Understanding and Interpreting Polls" is a free online course that explains why polls work and how they're conducted -- ideal for new and veteran journalists, bloggers, voters and anyone else who wants to understand how polls are designed and conducted.

This is the first of four parts in the course. AAPOR and NewsU will soon be adding content on additional topics related to polling: assessing horserace numbers and likely voter screens; methodological issues in polling including the inclusion or exclusion of cell-phones, the use of automatic dialers, and survey nonresponse; and how to write about and interpret poll results. We hope that all of these endeavors add to better understanding -- and use -- of public opinion survey research.