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Poll: Americans Don't Trust Polls Poll: Americans Don't Trust Polls

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Poll: Americans Don't Trust Polls

New findings paint a dark picture of the survey research industry.

(Samantha Celera)

photo of Steven Shepard
September 4, 2013

If you're like 75 percent of Americans, you think the polling data presented in this article is biased.

According to a new poll from the "data investment management" organization Kantar on Wednesday, three in four Americans "believe that most polls you hear about ... are biased toward a particular point of view," while only 19 percent think they are unbiased.

That finding, released as part of a larger event on the future of public-opinion polling sponsored by Kantar, paints a dark picture of the survey research industry, which is trying to adjust to changes in technology and privacy preferences that are making it harder for the industry to reach many Americans.

 

But the event also comes less than two weeks since Kantar acquired the lead polling firm on President Obama's reelection campaign last year, Benenson Strategy Group.

The poll is described as a "benchmark survey" that aims "to start mapping the path to public opinion." Respondents indicated that they have more trust in surveys conducted by nonpartisan groups, such as foundations or academic groups, than those conducted for political clients or by the news media. Sixty-four percent have at least "some trust" in polls conducted by "academic centers," and 54 percent trust surveys from "nonpartisan foundations." But only 46 percent have a modicum of trust in polls from polling companies, and even fewer, 43 percent, trust those surveys from news media organization.

That's still more trust than Americans put in survey results from poll aggregators who average or otherwise meld polling data (30 percent); political parties or candidates (27 percent); and automated voice-recording firms (16 percent).

(In an experiment, half of respondents were asked about specific firms, which indicated more trust in media polls. The two news organizations chosen—NBC News and The Wall Street Journal—might mollify distrust from both ends of the political spectrum.)

Respondents were split fairly evenly on the question of whether journalists and editors "use a common set of standards to evaluate the quality of polls to determine which polls they will report and which ones they will not"—51 percent said yes, and 41 percent said no.

National Journal and The Hotline only report results for polls conducted utilizing probability samples and generally avoid automated-phone surveys.

The Kantar poll was conducted July 24-Aug. 4 and surveyed 1,011 adults by landline and cell phone. The margin of error is plus-or-minus 3.1 percentage points—assuming you believe that.

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