Our Democracy Un-Spun! #9 The Electoral College & The Polls

It's 6:45 p.m. You're tired from a long day at work, and have just finished throwing something together for a quick dinner when the phone rings. It could be a telemarketer? A scam?

Or it could be Gallup Polls. Meet Ed Dubas. He works at the Gallup call center in Omaha, Nebraska, making polling phone calls for various organizations. A former used car salesman, Ed has been their best interviewer in the world for five years. He loves what he does, despite the hang-ups and four letter words. For him working for Gallup is about 'documenting the will of the people.' Gallup is especially well known for the quality of their political polls.

We're bombarded with polling information at this point as we draw close to Election Day. But not all polls are created equal. George H. Gallup founded the American Institute of Public Opinion in Princeton, and developed the idea of weekly public opinion polling. He worked diligently to uncover and explore the people's experience of environmental and social conditions in the hope of finding true solutions to many of society's problems. Many polls are carried out by lots of other organizations and methods, but over the years Gallup ideas and scientific methods have become widely appreciated and accepted.

But it takes time to craft, gather, analyze and report with that degree of quality. Real Clear Politics compiles the latest polling results from many organizations, and averages them. In the RCP list of polls, Gallup differs from the others in part because Gallup reports a seven day rolling poll. Variation abounds with sampling, margin of error, the structuring of questions, and such practical things as inclusion of cell phones and online polling. In the end, no one poll is definitive of what is really happening. And sometimes they are waaaayyy off!

None the less, polling provides feedback from the people, and allows for planning by the campaigns. Right now we are hearing a lot about the Electoral College and the 'swing states.' Money is pouring into the 'swing states' in campaign efforts and advertising, in part based on what the polls are telling about voter choices. Colorado has 9 electoral votes in this election, and we're seeing a whole lot of ads because right now we are not clearly on one side or the other in our polling. Talk about a 'swing state!' Watch for national averages in the polls, but the state-level data is what informs the battleground Electoral College predictions. Here's how it works, in plain English. Or check out this 3 minute video. The bottom line is, it takes 270 electoral votes to win. (Actual votes, by the way, so get out there and VOTE!)

P.S. Don't worry about Big Bird. He's going to be OK! If funding for public broadcasting is cut, it will be significantly more difficult to get those programs to the rural communities across the nation. Here's how it works, according to Melvin Ming, the CEO of Sesame Workshop. See what you think!

And if you have questions, or want assistance finding reliable information on this or any topic, contact our Reference Services Department on Level 3 of the Central Library, 720-865-1363 or by email.

Written by Elaine on October 17, 2012

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