In an opinion survey or poll, the opinions of a population are reported based on responses obtained from a sample of that population. You have probably participated in some kind of survey—perhaps one conducted by your school newspaper, one offered at a website or blog, a survey associated with a television reality series, or some other formal or informal canvas of opinion.
No survey is perfect, but some are more reliable representations of group opinion than others. The best surveys are conducted using methods based on scientific principles and best practices. This lesson is designed to help you learn how to evaluate opinion surveys—how to judge in each instance whether the data has been collected and analyzed in a manner that reduces error.
Your teacher will assign you one of these readings:
Your teacher also may put you into a small group. As directed by your teacher, work as a group to complete the Opinion Survey Quiz. You will use the information you learn from this activity in a class discussion about a contemporary opinion survey.
Choose one of the following assignments. Your teacher will tell you whether you should do this assignment in a small group or independently:
- Make a poster display of a published opinion survey and indicate the information the pollster has provided to help readers determine whether the survey was conducted in a manner that reduces error. For example, is information provided about sample size, question wording, margin of error, etc.?
- Write a brief essay on one of these topics:
- Online polls: Can they be scientific?
- Why surveys sometimes get it wrong
- The different purposes of surveys (with examples)
- A famous polling incident (such as when polls predicted that Thomas Dewey would defeat Harry S. Truman in the 1948 U.S. Presidential election)
Polling Report is a website that bills itself as “an independent, nonpartisan resource on trends in American public opinion.” It has polling information on a wide variety of topics.
Angus Reid Consultants provides a daily summary of published polling results from all over the globe. You may wish to use this site to access surveys for your homework assignment or for further study of the topic.
There are a number of Internet sites that enable visitors to participate in polls and even to create their own polls. You may wish to check out surveys of this type, keeping in mind what you have learned about the factors that make a survey scientific (many Web polls are not scientific and do not reliably reflect the opinion of the whole population). One such website is You Polls.
This esheet is a part of the Opinion Surveys lesson.