09/11/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Can I Trust This Poll? Part II

"Can I trust this poll?" In Part I of this series I tried to present the growing clash between traditional polling methods and a new breed that breaks many of the old rules and makes answering this question difficult. In this post, I want to review the philosophies at work behind efforts to evaluate polls and offer a few suggestions about what we can do to assess whether poll samples are truly representative.

Those who assess polls and pollsters generally fall into two categories, those who check the methodology and those who check the results. Let's consider both.

Check the Methods - Most pollsters have been trained to assess polls by looking at the underlying methods, not the results they produce. The idea is that you do all you can to contact and interview a truly random sample, ask standardized, balanced, clearly-worded questions and then trust the results.


Check the Results - When non-pollsters think about how to evaluate polls, their intuitive approach is different. They typically ask, well, how does the pollster compare in terms of accuracy? The popularity of Nate Silver and the pollster ratings he posted last year at last year speaks to the desire of non-pollsters to reduce accuracy to a simple score.

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