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What is political polling? A look at analyzing elections

Posted at 10:30 PM, Sep 28, 2022

LANSING, Mich. — There's a a lot more to politics then elections, or the legislature or politicians. In this series, we’re breaking down some of the things you’ll hear a lot this election season starting with political polling.

“Political polling is a process by which you contact voters, voters most likely to vote on a given day," said Ed Sarpolus, executive director of Target Insyght, a polling firm based in Lansing.

Pollsters like Sarpolus compile questions and call voters across the state to find out how they’re planning to vote in upcoming elections. Work like his is also conducted for local elections and even schools trying to figure out how voters are feeling about the issues on the ballot.

“People are generally pretty honest," Sapolus explained. "Like I said, I've been doing this for 50 years, and it usually about 80 to 90% of the time the polls are accurate. It's never 100% because sometimes you're going to have a sample that's off.”

And that happens sometimes. Pollsters don’t pretend they can predict the future, they operate with what’s called a margin of error.

“And what that means is that one out of 20 times the poll will not be 100% accurate," Sarpolus said. "Because polls are a snapshot in time, it doesn't mean things can't change.”

But there’s a key to accuracy.

“The sample is really the secret to the accuracy of the polling," said Bernie Porn, the president of EPIC-MRA. "The number of opportunities for people to be called within certain age groups are within the sample, the random sample, so that you have a better opportunity to get the age categories that you need to represent an election year.”

That means pollsters like Porn and Sarpolus don’t call every voter in the state. They're looking to gather a smaller portion of voters to represent the views of all voters.

“What we do, most of the polls that we do is basically via live telephone calls, and that's calling landlines as well as cell phones," Sarpolus said.

You might also see surveys pop up on your cell phone or in your email inbox as well. These polls show us which candidate is ahead but not necessarily who will win.

“For example, during the 2016 race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I was saying that Donald Trump still may likely win despite what the polls show. There's a difference between being in the lead and also winning," Sarpolus said.

It was said earlier in this piece, but it’s worth mentioning again, polling offers a snapshot in time, it can’t definitively say which candidate will win over another only votes can do that.

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