Polling for Local Elections

ed rosenthal
March 2, 2015

When I was a political consultant, I spent a lot of time trying to provide the benefits of solid polling data to underfunded local campaigns like school board and city council elections.   I had studied statistics in Graduate School, and I was sure I had the necessary mathematical background to conduct a poll.   Unfortunately, I didn't at first appreciate the importance of the way questions were formulated to the process.   When I began to write my first poll, I had to turn to my new friends in the Political Science Department at Sonoma State for help in writing them and for advice in interpreting the results.   Professors Don Dixon and John Kramer , among others, were generous with their time, and in 1986, with the help of volunteers like Anne Seeley, I was able to conduct my first poll, an exit poll focused on the Santa Rosa City Council Election.   I continue to provide polling advice to local candidates, even after my retirement.

With hindsight, I can see that I spent too much time over the years in the process of polling, and not enough time helping the candidates I worked with understand how to interpret the information we developed.   For future candidates, I have developed  a short list of key points to remember.   I will elaborate on each of these points in future posts.

  • A poll is a snapshot; it is not a way to predict who is going to win
  • Often two simple polls, properly spaced, are more useful than one long poll
  • Undecided voters are usually much more important to look at than those voters who have made up their minds....but not always
  • You've got to know the territory; the context of the poll can be as important as the results themselves
  • Likely voters are selected for polling based upon educated guesses

A blog about all the arts, including politics
"for 'twere absurd to think that nature in the earth bred gold, perfect in the instant;
there must be remote matter." - Ben Jonson
"I don't know what the question is, but art is the answer." - Guy Conner

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