SCSU Political Science Chair Talks About Polling Challenges

(KNSI) – As the midterm election cycle heats up, polling firms are trying to get an accurate read on the races. That isn’t always easy to do.

St. Cloud State University Political Science Department Chair Jim Cottrill says 2016, in particular, provided some valuable lessons about meticulously ensuring that the sample a pollster obtains is truly representative of the overall population, including historically “shy” voters.

“It used to be the responses were more from the college education level and they didn’t think there was a problem with that. Well, obviously that’s not necessarily the bulk of the country. That’s leaving out a lot of important people.”

Cottrill says if you are a member of an underrepresented group like the high school educated, that may mean you receive multiple phone calls in an attempt to receive your input. He says it isn’t ideal for either party but it is required to uncover the truth.

Jim Cottrill says poll a race can be very tough, especially those that are prone to bombshell revelations, what is known in the field as the “October Surprise.”

“I would say most polling organizations don’t have the money to keep doing study after study after study. So, they don’t usually have that long-term data. You’re usually comparing one polling group to a different polling group and a different population, a different sample, and that can make it really difficult.”

Cottrill says it has become common practice to take an average of all the polls for a particular race to try and get the most complete picture. He says the method isn’t a perfect solution but the general rule of thumb is more data is always better than less.

Saint Cloud State is gearing up to begin its statewide poll soon. Cottrill says it is important to remember that the survey is not about pushing a particular agenda.

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