Aug 23, 2017

How to spot a fake poll

Otto Kitsinger / AP

As the polling industry moves online and it becomes less expensive to launch a survey, fake polls (polls that are not conducted properly, or polls that can't be trusted) are going to keep popping up. To help sort through it all, FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten lays out a couple of ground rules.

Make sure they look professional: Check for sloppy mistakes like typos. It likely means the authors of the poll aren't familiar with the content or weren't paying attention like a professional would.

  • Also see where the polling company is located, since without an address, it's probably a fake company. Check when the company was founded. If there's no answer or it was recently, be suspicious.
  • Look at who conducted the poll: Seek out their reputation and their track record. Check if they have a web site beyond a Twitter account.

Look for how the poll was conducted — via phone, internet, Google survey? — to see if the pollster is revealing that information. If they're not transparent, they're likely not professional.

  • Look at the questions in the poll, and especially for political polls, look for questions that go beyond comparing two candidates, including demographic questions, since professional pollsters will want to weight their data. Plus, most professional pollsters want to find out people's reasoning for leaning one way or the other, not just which way they lean.
  • See why a poll was conducted since if they don't tell you, you should be cautious. Academic institutions poll to increase name recognition or educate, professional pollsters to make money, for example.
  • Check when the poll was conducted and how many people it reached since every professional pollster will tell you that since that influences the results and their precision.

Go deeper

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

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America's unfinished business

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

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Why it matters: What these seemingly disparate issues share in common is that they emanate from systemic abuses that calls to action and promised reforms have yet to meaningfully address.

Deaths without consequences

Community organizations and activists demand police accountability at a rally in Grand Central Terminal to commemorate the 5-year anniversary of Mike Brown's death by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Photo: Erik McGregor/Getty Images

Seven years after the launch of the Black Lives Matter movement, it's still rare for police officers to be charged in the deaths of African Americans — and even more rare for an officer to go to jail.

The big picture: The Minneapolis police officer who was captured on video kneeling on George Floyd's neck has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter — which is already a step beyond the consequences other police officers have faced. But it's no guarantee that he will face jail time.