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Lesson Idea: Polling & Public Opinion

Time Frame:

4 days approximately    


Students will learn about polls and the polling process, including vocabulary. Students will apply critical thinking skills to analyze questions related to polling accuracy and current issues with polling. Students will determine what factors are important when assessing the accuracy of a poll. Students will put their knowledge into practice through the creation and analysis of their own polls.

Common Core Standards:

  • Cite specific textual (data) evidence to support analysis of primary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information. (CCSS ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.1)
  • Integrate quantitative or technical analysis (e.g. charts, research data) with qualitative analysis in print or digital text. (CCSS ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.7)
  • Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source, provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas. (CCSS ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.2)
  • Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g. visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem. (CCSS ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.7)
  • Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources. (CCSS ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.9)


  • Projector or SmartBoard style technology to stream videos
  • Poll Handout (Google Doc) (Adobe PDF)


  • Polls
  • Straw Poll
  • Academic Polls
  • Foundation/Institutional Polls
  • Media Polls
  • Campaign Polls (Internal polling)
  • Internet Panels & Mobile Panels
  • Mixed Methodology (for polling)
  • Sample Size
  • Likely Voters
  • Disenfranchisement
  • Margin of Error
  • Poll Bias
  • Demographics
  • Exit Polls


1. Discuss and take notes on the vocabulary with students. 2. Watch the following clips and have students answer the accompanying questions.

a) What is the difference between polling done by an academic institution/foundation and campaign polling?
b) Who is the intended audience for the different types of polling? (Discuss “internal polling” for campaigns)


Technological Challenges

3. Discuss the following questions and then view the Problems with Internet Polling (1 ½ min) video:

a) How has the use of phones and the internet changed over time?
b) Does this make the job of pollsters easier or harder?
c) What concerns can you think of with internet polling and mobile polling?

4. Discuss the following questions and then view the videos below:

Bias and Polling Trust

a) Do you think people believe polls are fair/balanced or biased?
b) Can you give reasons for your opinion? How can people who conduct polls boost the trust in polls by the public?

5. Wrap-Up Discussion:

When looking at a poll, what factors should they look at to determine whether it is an accurate poll?

  • Media polls v. academic/institutional polls (who sponsored the poll)
  • The overall question (approval/disapproval) and the sub-set of questions
  • The sample and whether that’s published information
  • Margin of error

6. Activity:

Break students into small groups of 2 or 3. Ask them to come up with a basic question relevant to their lives/school/community. They should then come up with two possible answers.

Discuss the issue of demographics and give the students the example polling sheet to help with ideas.

Have students conduct their polls and bring their results to class. Discuss their findings.

Ask them to explain the trends they saw in the poll itself. What general information can they infer about the issue and how people responded based on their data? Do they think their data was reliable or not and why (sample size, diversity of people polled in relation to overall school population, question bias, etc.)?

Extension Idea 1:

Have students gather polls on various issues. Show them reliable sites/sources. Ask them to track the polling issue over a period of time to see how it changes and whether different polls have similar results or different results than one another.


  • Polling on a particular issue (gun control, health care ACA, gay rights, foreign policy)
  • Polling approval ratings (presidential, congressional, whether country is going in right direction)
  • State or national election race (gubernatorial, state congressional, U.S. Congress, U.S. Senate)

Have students share their results. How did the polls change over time and were the different sources consistent or not?

Extension Idea 2:

During recent presidential elections, there has been much discussion about the accuracy of polling. It’s been reported that in 2012, Mitt Romney's campaign were so convinced they would win, based upon their own internal campaign polling, that they had only written an acceptance speech and not a concession speech.

Search the web for both video and written articles which discuss the issue of polling accuracy and write a summary of your findings.

Writing Assignment: 

What were the factors which made polling inconsistent and problematic for the 2012 presidential election? Were the campaigns themselves having issues with their own internal polling and why? What factors that had been building regarding polling accuracy became problematic at this time? What are some of the ways this can be changed and improved? Have they been implemented in the 2016 campaign cycle?