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Why Different Polls Show Different Numbers

By: Mark Tenia Email
By: Mark Tenia Email

October 31, 2008

"In the past 14 days there have been 14 Virginia polls released that I've seen that range, that gave exactly that range from two points to 12 points between Obama and McCain," said UVa politics professor Nicholas Winter.

So why are there such large variations? Winter says there are several reasons. More people are becoming involved in the political process this election, and there are many more polls being done. All causing the gap between different polls.

"There are just so many polls out there. You've got everyone from Gallup who's been doing this, since literally, since the invention of polling to small marketing firms that are trying to make a name for themselves by running a one shot state poll," said Winter.

Another reason, different techniques. Different pollsters using different methods to determine who they think will show up on election day.

"There interested in not so much what all Virginians think, or what all people in the nation think but rather, that, and who's actually going to show up to vote," said Winter.

But Winter says that it's important to do more than just keep an eye on daily polls.

"It's like a blizzard of polls coming down and I think the way to think about polls responsibly is to step back and look at the shape of the snow drifts rather than the individual snow flakes as they fall," said Winter.

And that in the end, polls are useful and for the most part accurate.

"If you take a grand average of the polls, that's about where the race really is and that's about where things are going to come out," said Winter.

The latest Gallup poll showed Obama with an 11 point lead over McCain.


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