Activities for Understanding Polls



With just a couple weeks left till the elections, polls seem to be everywhere. There are daily polls like the Gallup poll, polls that focus on certain swing states, and even larger “polls of polls.” For the novices, all this data can be information overload. Here are a few activity ideas to help your students understand the basics of polls and become actively involved in the polling process.

1. Discuss students’ perception of polls

Clarify what a poll is: a record of the opinion or vote of groups of people. For more information on how polls are conducted, companies such as Gallup break down their method on their website. Foster a discussion on polls: for instance, do students think polls are important in an election? Do you think polls could influence an election? Should polls be used at all?

2. Students conduct a simple poll

When your students have a firm understanding of the polling process, have them apply their new knowledge to a “public opinion” study of their own. Students can create and conduct a small poll in class. The poll could be about anything from the election to a favorite lunch food. Afterwards, students can graph the results and discuss whether the collected data represents the viewpoints of a larger population.

3. Experiment with polls

Using the scientific process, run a little classroom experiment. Have students examine the way polls are worded. For example, asking “who would you vote for?” might yield different results than “which candidate do you prefer?” If questions are posed differently, might it affect the answer and therefore the outcome of the poll? Students can hypothesize what type of questions will yield a certain result. Then, they can create two polls they can try in class, with questions phrased differently.

4. Taking it further: apply skills in probability and statistics to poll data

Examine polls from a mathematical perspective. Students can identify the role of probability and statistics in political polling. From polls, have students calculate the probability of an outcome, and determine mean, median and mode. Our videos Mean, Median & Mode and Probability are great for reviewing or teaching the fundamentals of probability and statistics.

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