We are posting here 20 vital questions journalists should ask about poll results as published by the National Council on Public Polls ( [In brackets are some additional information we have provided]

Polls provide the best direct source of information about public opinion. They are valuable tools for journalists and can serve as the basis for accurate, informative news stories. For the journalist looking at a set of poll numbers, here are the 20 questions to ask the pollster before reporting any results. This publication is designed to help working journalists do a thorough, professional job covering polls. It is not a primer on how to conduct a public opinion survey.

The only polls that should be reported are “scientific” polls. A number of the questions here will help you decide whether or not a poll is a “scientific” one worthy of coverage – or an unscientific survey without value.

Unscientific pseudo-polls are widespread and sometimes entertaining, but they never provide the kind of information that belongs in a serious report. Examples include 900-number call-in polls, man-on-the-street surveys, many Internet polls, shopping mall polls, [and TV text-in or radio text-in polls].

One major distinguishing difference between scientific and unscientific polls is who picks the respondents for the survey. In a scientific poll, the pollster identifies and seeks out the people to be interviewed. In an unscientific, poll, the respondents usually “volunteer” their opinions, selecting themselves for the poll. [The science of polling has a lot to do with how good the design of  the sampling is – selection of regions, of provinces, of municipalities/cities, of barangays, of households, and of actual respondents; how well the samples are spread out in a specific area, how many sample points or sample areas are included. The fieldwork arm or agency simply executes what is specified in the sampling design.]

The results of the well-conducted scientific poll provide a reliable guide to the opinions of many people in addition to those interviewed. The results of an unscientific poll tell you nothing beyond simply what those respondents say.

By asking these 20 questions, the journalist (and the general public) can seek the facts to decide how to report any poll that comes across the news desk.

1. Who did the poll?
2. Who paid for the poll and why was it done?
3. How many people were interviewed for the survey?
4. How were those people chosen? [What was the distribution of the samples across areas?]
5. What area (nation or regions [or provinces]) or what group ([voting-age adults], teachers, lawyers, [registered voters], etc.) were these people chosen from?
6. Are the results based on the answers of all the people interviewed?
7. Who should have been interviewed and was not? Or do response rates matter?
8. When was the poll done?
9. How were the interviews conducted?
10. What about polls on the Internet or World Wide Web?
11. What is the sampling error for the poll results?
12. Who’s on first? [How do they select respondents in a household?]
13. What other kinds of factors can skew poll results?
14. What questions were asked? [How long was the questionnaire?]
15. In what order were the questions asked?
16. What about “push polls?”
17. What other polls have been done on this topic? Do they say the same thing? If they are different, why are they different?
18. What about exit polls?
19. What else needs to be included in the report of the poll?
20. So I’ve asked all the questions. The answers sound good. Should we report the results?

  1. December 28, 2009 at 6:47 pm

    I have been associated with Mr. Junie Laylo personally and professionally for the past eight years, and I bear personal witness to his integrity both as a pollster and as a person. This list of questions are among the vital issues that not only journalists must ask, but everyone who reads and uses surveys for whatever purpose.
    In my case, Junie’s numbers had been a wonderful tool in carrying out my profession. I had been able to craft messages, engineer communications projects, implement political programs, etc. with positive results (my three years in the Office of the President would have been a bigger head ache if Junie was not there) because I had Junie’s surveys to read and consult.

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