Civil Beat Guide to Polling During Election Season

Flickr: aflcio

Hi, my name is Mike and I'm calling from Civil Beat to ask you a few questions about public opinion surveys during campaign season.

Just kidding. This is a news story, not a telephone poll. But that seems like a good place to start with our lesson today.

You or someone you know might have already gotten a call from a pollster this year. Chances will only improve in the months between now and the August primary election and November general election. And even if you aren't on the receiving end of a call, you'll certainly be reading about what other people say when they pick up the phone.

Surveys are as much a part of contemporary elections as bunting and baby-kissing. But public understanding about how things work is lacking, as evidenced by the confusion — legitimate or faux, it's not clear — by readers, political operatives and even candidates themselves over the rail-friendly, Cayetano-unfriendly poll results released by a construction union trade organization last month.

I wrote about the results in two places on Civil Beat the day the numbers were distributed: In a post titled "PRP Poll Shows Improved Numbers for Rail, Carlisle" in the Inside Honolulu blog and an article about the context for the poll titled "Pro-Rail Union Group Ups Ante Against Cayetano." In the comments below those stories and subsequent blog posts as well as in private conversations and emails to me in recent months, the term "push poll" was tossed around liberally, and often incorrectly.

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