How Do Polls Inform, Influence and Impact Elections?

Bias, Discrimination & Hate
People, Identity & Culture
Happy volunteer asking exit poll questions at election voting center

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Grade Level:
High School
Common Core Standards:
Reading, Speaking and Listening, Language
Bias, Discrimination & Hate
People, Identity & Culture

Polls and Opinion Surveys are Part of Our Daily Lives

From responding to surveys on social media to reading results from the latest election poll, we are inundated with information about what the public thinks about a variety of topics and issues. During elections, polls are used to provide information to the general public and for candidates to gain insight into their standing in the race. During the 2016 Presidential election, as many as four polls a day were released in the months leading up to the election. 

What is a Poll?

A poll is a survey of public opinion that is based on a sampling of people. Opinions polls are conducted by asking questions of a smaller subset of people that represents the larger group. The data is compiled and generalizations are made about that group of people’s opinions, based on responses to those questions. During elections, polls are used to share information with the general public and for candidates to gain insight into their standing in a race.

Why Are Demographics Important in Polling?

Pollsters (people who design the polls) use “weighting” in order to adjust the results to match the population being represented. For example, if a poll has a lower percentage of women respondents than there are in the U.S., the responses from that group of people (in this case, women) would be adjusted, or weighted more heavily, to make up the difference. In addition, bias and stereotypes can impact how people answer poll questions.

About this Lesson Plan

This lesson provides an opportunity for students to learn about polling, understand the importance of identity and demographics in polling, reflect on potential bias in polls and create their own poll in order to analyze their design. 

Learning Objectives:

  • Students will understand the purpose and impact of election polls. 
  • Students will examine election polls and reflect on why identity and demographics are critical factors in polling results.
  • Students will create their own election polls in order to think critically about how polls are designed and results analyzed.

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