Anatomy of a Presidential Poll

The question “who would you vote for” is key to every political poll. Yet eliciting a candid answer is complicated. Here’s how a Pew Research Center pollster does it.

ASK ALL REGISTERED VOTERS (REG=1)

People “absolutely certain” of being registered voters get a 1 and stay in the survey. Others are cut.

5. If the presidential election were held today, would you vote for the Democratic ticket of Barack Obama and Joe Biden or the Republican ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan?

[READ AND RANDOMIZE CANDIDATE’S NAME]

The order of candidates’ names can affect responses, so pollsters determine the order randomly each time.

ASK IF ANSWER IS “OTHER” OR “DON’T KNOW”:

Pew considers a “Don’t Know” respondent an undecided voter.

5a. As of today, do you lean more to ___?

[READ NAMES IN SAME ORDER AS Q. 5]

ASK IF ANSWER IS “ROMNEY” OR “OBAMA”:

5b. Do you support ___

[INSERT LAST NAME OF CANDIDATE CHOSEN IN Q.5; DO NOT READ VP] strongly or only moderately?

Undecided and third-party voters, or those who refuse to answer, get asked the “leaner” question. Obama and Romney backers get the strong/moderate one.

Important as it is, Question 5 doesn’t stand alone. Pew pollsters ask a slew of questions in an effort to determine who is truly likely to cast a ballot. Otherwise, the poll’s results could give too much weight to respondents who may not actually vote.

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