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2012 Media Releases

Polls: What do they really tell us?

Oct. 6, 2012—With so many polls being released nationally with varing results, the University of Denver, which hosted the first Presidential Debate on Oct. 3, is offering interviews with political science experts to help explain what national surveys can and can't tell us.

"There has been a flurry of national polls showing the two candidates slightly up or down," Peter Hanson, assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Denver, said.  "First, it is important to remember that only a handful of swing states are competitive in this election, so polls of swing states will be more informative than national polls.  Second, any poll is an estimate of the views of the public and has statistical error associated with it.  Rather than focusing on any one poll, it is important to take a step back and look at the averages of all polls to get a more accurate sense of public opinion."

Seth Masket, associate professor and chair of the Political Science department, noted that a poll is a "moment in time." "Given the condition of the economy and other election fundamentals, this was always going to be a close race, and likely will be right up until Election Day. A poll is a snapshot of what voters are thinking at the moment. It can't tell us how voters will be feeling four weeks from now, but it can give us an idea of how the race is shaping up and what trends and issues are motivating voters."