The Moral and Political Effects of Polling

The Moral and Political Effects of Polling
In the second edition of their book, Introduction to Survey Research and Data Analysis, Herbert Weisberg,
Jon Krosnick, and Bruce Bowen raise a series of concerns about polling. In particular, they list the
following ethical issues:
1. Polls can interfere with the political process by creating a bandwagon effect. When the public hears that
a particular candidate is ahead, some undecided voters jump on the bandwagon and support the leading
2. A candidate who looks good in the polls has an easier time getting people to contribute to the campaign
and receives more media attention.
3. Polls showing that one candidate is far ahead may deter other potential candidates from running.
4. When a race is projected as “decided” before Election Day, some citizens may not vote at all.
5. People change their attitudes on political issues because they want to agree with the majority.
6. A poorly conducted poll could affect the outcome of an election, if its results generated a significant
bandwagon effect.
7. Release of exit-poll results during voting hours discourages some people from voting.
8. Media reports of poll results are often misleading.
9. Polls weaken the role of public opinion rather than strengthen it. Polls may now dominate other means
of expressing opinions, such as protests.
Discussion Questions
1. All of the items listed are related to fears that polling may manipulate electoral outcomes, even when it
provides incomplete or inaccurate information. Explore each of these possibilities in greater detail.
Which do you consider the greater danger? Why? Which do you consider the least dangerous? Why?
2. Given the limitations of public opinion polling, compare and contrast the concerns of the following three
poll consumers (users):
a. elected politicians
b. journalists
c. voters