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AAPOR & NewsU: Understanding and Interpreting Polls


Regular readers will know that I am active in the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR), the leading professional association of pollsters and survey researchers. That volunteer commitment sometimes competes with Pollster.com for my attention, as it did this week as AAPOR unveiled a new and improved website and participated in the launch of a very cool online course on "Understanding and Interpreting Polls" developed in partnership with the Poynter Institute's prestigious News University (NewsU).

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Some background: NewsU is a project of The Poynter Institute for Media Studies that provides "interactive, inexpensive" online courses aimed primarily at journalists. Who should take this "one to two hour" course on polling? According to NewsU: "new journalists, veteran journalists, J-school students, political science majors, bloggers, voters and anyone who wants to know why polls work and how they are conducted." And what will you learn?

As election season approaches, journalists are bombarded with data from polls. Are you confident you can tell the legitimate numbers from the sloppy surveys? How effectively can you evaluate the polling methods? Do you know when nine out of 10 really isn't nine out of 10? In this course, you'll learn to dig into the survey data and see how the numbers measure up.

This course will help you gain a better understanding of how polls are conducted, what to look for in the methodology and how to determine the legitimacy of a poll. When you are finished, you should know what questions to ask about polls, where to look for answers and why it matters.

The course requires a free registration, but is otherwise accessible to all. It is full of all sorts of interactive Flash graphics and includes a three-part audio presentation by the Pew Research Center's Richard Morin (formerly polling director at The Washington Post) about how polls can help "correct common perceptions, speculation or generalizations that found their way into news stories and commentary about major news events."

For those willing to invest an hour or two, this site provides invaluable background on how polls are conducted. NewsU also promises to add new lessons in the coming months on election polling and how to interpret and report poll results.

For those who want to get some quick highlights (without the registration but also without the snazzy interactive graphics), selected material from the NewsU course also appears on the new AAPOR website among the answers to "Frequently Asked Questions" on random sampling, question wording and questions to ask when reporting on a poll.

 

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