Political Impacts of Public Opinion Polls

Public Opinion Polls have become an prominent feature of American politics. In the following activities, you will gain firsthand experience in conducting and reporting public opinion polls and then explore what happens when public opinion polls do not accurately or fully represent the opinions of the public.

Public Opinion Polls have become an prominent feature of American politics. A poll is a survey given to a small sample of chosen respondents as a way to reveal what larger numbers of people think about a political issue or election candidate.

Image by geralt is under Pixabay License

Poll results are often widely reported in both print and online media. They are meant to provide information about people and politics that would not be readily available in other ways.

From the standpoint of critical media literacy, it is important to understand what polls can and cannot tell us about what people want from government or who people want to elect to public office. There are two important factors to keep in mind.

First, ideally polls support democracy. The information they provide contributes to everyone’s knowledge and understanding of politics and policy. As the Pew Research Center crucially noted, “in nations without robust polling, the head of government can simply decree citizens’ wants and needs instead” (Key Things to Know about Election Polling in the United States, August 5, 2020, para. 1).

Second, in reality polls have limitations and shortcomings. Any poll is just a snapshot in time and may not reflect people’s changing attitudes or behaviors. For example, a person may complete a poll saying they intend to vote in an election and then decide not to. Or, a person may not answer a poll honestly, saying they voted for one candidate when in fact they voted for another candidate instead. For these reasons, polls may miss the levels of support or opposition for issues or candidates actually present in society.

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Activity 1: Conduct an Opinion Poll on an Issue of Interest

Activity 2: Conduct an Opinion Poll on Election Voting or a Political Candidate

Designing for Learning: Student-Created Activity Example

Political Opnion Poll Results by Caroline Roscoe
Opinion Polling in the United States by Brigid Murray, Bryce Souza, Caroline Roscoe

Activity 3: Evaluate how Election Polls can be Misleading

Designing for Learning: Student-Created Activity Example

Political Impacts of Public Opinion Polls Sketchnote by rigid Murray, Bryce Souza, Caroline Roscoe

Additional Resources

Connecting to the Standards

  • Massachusetts Civics & Government Standards
    • Explain the process of elections in the legislative and executive branches and the process of nomination/confirmation of individuals in the judicial and executive branches (Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for History and Social Science) [8.T3.4]
  • ISTE Standards
    • Knowledge Constructor
      • 3b: Students evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data, or other resources.
      • 3d: Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.
    • Computational Thinker
      • 5b. Students collect data or identify relevant data sets, use digital tools to analyze them, and represent data in various ways to facilitate problem-solving and decision-making.
    • Creative Communicator
      • 6a: Students choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication.
      • 6b: Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.
      • 6d: Students publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for the intended audiences.
  • DLCS Standards
    • Interpersonal and Societal Impact (CAS.c)
    • Digital Tools (DTC.a)
    • Collaboration and Communication (DTC.b)
    • Research (DTC.c)
  • English Language Arts > History/Social Studies Common Core Standards
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.7
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.8
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.9
  • English/Language Arts Common Core Standards

This content is provided to you freely by Equity Press.

Access it online or download it at https://equitypress.org/mediaandciviclearning/public_opinion_polls.