Everyday Math

Numbers and Math in Everyday Life

How often are political polls wrong?

Just because statistics are used does not make polling infallible or even reliable. For example, some questions may be misleading. The media is notorious for asking such polling questions as, Do you agree that keeping the environment clean is important? as if the majority of people would say no. Such questions often make the results of polling somewhat questionable, especially if the original questions asked are not presented with the results. Errors and questionable outcomes are caused by people lying, bad interview techniques, and even the sample of people interviewed. All too often, the results of polling create another consequence: swaying public opinion and creating a “jump on the bandwagon” effect. (For more information about statistics, see “Applied Mathematics.”)

Finally, the average sample in a poll is around 1,500 people. This is said to reflect the entire population within around three percentage points (called the margin of error). In fact, this is also the reason why so many people don’t pay too much attention to the media’s political polls—too few “data points”—and why many politicians conduct their own polls before, during, and after the elections. Of course, others cite their own statistics, including one that says, since 1980, every presidential election has been accurately predicted by national polls.


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