Making Sense of the Polls

Associate Professor of Political Science John Lapinski sheds light on the polling process in the last days before the election.
October 31, 2012

With Election Day less than a week away, politicians, pundits and citizens alike are scrambling for the latest political polls in hopes of any indication as to who might come out on top. Below, Associate Professor of Political Science John Lapinski, who also works in the Elections Unit at NBC News, discusses the mechanics of polls, their influence on both the electorate and the campaigns, and whether the latest numbers reveal any last-minute trends.

How do polls influence the typical voter?
What methods are used to ensure polls accurately represent the electorate as a whole?
How many voters are included in the average poll?
How do campaigns use polls to their advantage?
Can polls be used to measure the influence of major political events, like debates?
Are the polls supporting the idea that the election may come down to a few important swing states?
Based on the polls, does a power shift seem likely in the Senate?