Politicians and public interest groups frequently quote political poll results to justify policy recommendations or decisions. While dozens of polling companies exist, the most commonly cited surveys are from a small group of independent polling companies: the Gallup Organization, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and Harris Interactive. Because of their non-partisanship and strict methodology, they have achieved the highest levels of respect across the entire political spectrum.
The Gallup Organization
In 1935, George Gallup founded the American Institute of Public Opinion, which later became known as the Gallup Organization. The Gallup poll methodology was created by Gallup and began as a weekly survey of public opinion that was syndicated to national newspapers later that year. To maintain impartiality, the Gallup Poll is paid for by support from partner media groups, most recently CNN and USA Today. Additional funding comes from selling website subscriptions.
Poll questions are suggested by website subscribers, TV and newspaper media, members of Congress and affiliated foundations and universities. The poll results are gathered by conducting random telephone interviews with a minimum of 1,000 participants. The results are then weighted to match national race, age and gender demographics, based on the latest census.
The Pew Research Center
The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press is a nonpartisan organization sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trust since 1996. The center exists simply to provide factual information regarding public policy and opinion and does not give advice regarding strategy or implementation.
The center has a random sample of approximately 1,500 individuals per survey. Large sample sizes are used to allow multiple versions of the survey, which reduces the possibility of a response bias due to question order or wording. It is on the forefront of ensuring adequate representation by respondents without land-line phones and currently weights its survey to include one cell phone number for every three land-line interviews.
Harris Interactive was known at its inception in 1975 as the Gordon S. Black Corp., named after its founder, a University of Rochester political science professor. The name was changed in 1999, to reflect a merger with Louis Harris & Associates in 1996, and an increased reliance on the Internet as a survey tool. The company conducts market research surveys for private clients and offers public shares to raise funds for conducting surveys.
The Harris Poll selects respondents for their online surveys from a bank of more than 6 million possible participants to generate a sample consistent with current general population. Completed surveys undergo rigid screening to guarantee that the answers are consistent.
- The Gallup Poll; Alec M. Gallup, Frank Newport; 2004
- The Washington Post: Top Polls Prove Reliable
Malynnda Littky has written professionally for the past year, and contributes regularly to several blogs and websites such as eHow as a contracted content contributor.