By Heather Brown


MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — With the presidential primaries just a few months away, expect to hear a lot about political polls.

Jon from Pequot Lakes emailed WCCO wanting to know: If there are so many polls, why hasn’t he been called? Good Question.

“The answer is we talk to someone just like you,” said Anthony Salvanto, director of Elections and Surveys for CBS News. “We talk with someone who is similar enough to you in the way they would have answered the question that they would represent you.”

Pollsters use a sample of the population to determine the estimate of Americans’s opinions on any number of topics. Salvanto says 1,000 people surveyed is a good benchmark. It’s essential for accuracy that the sampling include differences based on age, race, education, region and political leanings.

“The mechanism of how that works is that the people you talk to when you put together this little microcosm of the state or country represent others like them,” he said.

Some polling is done with phone calls, where the numbers are randomly generated by a computer. According to Pew Research, the response rate has fallen to 6% for phone surveys. That means a pollster would have to call almost 17,000 people to get 1,000 to answer a phone survey.

“We are calling cellphones, but it’s easy for a cellphone to go to voicemail,” Salvanto said. “That’s one of the challenges for telephone polling.”

More and more polling is no happening online, where people can sign up with polling companies for online panels to answer survey questions. For CBS News’ October Battleground Tracker poll, pollster YouGov surveyed 16,500 registered voters online over 18 states.

“The convenience is important in getting a cross section of people,” Salvanto said.

But, as for why Jon from Pequot Lakes hasn’t been called, Pew Research answered that question. They calculate that each American over 18 has a 1 in 160,000 chance for getting called for any of their polls. Even in there are thousands of polls every year, the chances are still pretty small.

Heather Brown

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