In exactly one year from now, U.S. voters will be prepping to head for the polls to elect their presidential candidate of choice to hold federal office in early-2021.
To get a better grasp as to the methodological quality of media-reported polls, and how the public depicts its accuracy, a group of researchers at the University of Michigan and University of Pennsylvania focused on the previous election cycle in 2016.
According to the study, released in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Public Opinion Research, researchers evaluated how partisan polls influenced voters, including their perception of polling accuracy and expectations, leading up to the previous election.
To assess this, over 900 Americans took part in a series of online surveys. In those surveys, the participants were given a screenshot of a news story of two polls showing the Democratic and Republican presidential nominee.
The polls were altered attesting either nominee as the leading candidate by a margin. Upon assessing the polls, the respondents rated its accuracy and rendered a prediction on the scenerio the election would take place the following day.
Based on their assessment, the respondents were asked to determine which poll accurately portrays the public support for the candidates. For one of the polls, the perceived accuracy was measured for credibility.
As attributed by the study’s co-authors, researchers found that voters interpreted media-reported polls as more credible when their candidate of choice is leading. Additionally, education played a factor in the responses; for example: educated respondents were more likely to spot high-quality polls with credibility.
“The process of motivated reasoning, especially in our currently polarized environment, is complicating civil discourse about politics,” said Michael Traugott, one of the study’s co-authors.
“The evidence available through well-conducted polls is not subject to evaluations based on their methodological quality. Accuracy and credibility are assessed in terms of whether the results confirm preexisting attitudes and beliefs,” Traugott added.
Overall, the findings bring a new standpoint on voters’ partisan perception of polls and how such bias may profusely affect election turnout, especially in the upcoming election cycle.