Polls Are Everywhere, And as Volatile as Ever

With the election less than a week away, pundits, journalists and others are turning to the polls to venture their guess about who will be the next president. But the answer is not so clear.

Polls have been increasingly volatile. And during the same day different polls have often reported drastically different results.

In the crucial state of Florida, for instance, yesterday's polls showed great disparities. The Zogby/Reuters/MSNBC poll had Vice President Al Gore '69 leading by 11 points in the state, while the Los Angeles Times Poll had Gov. George W. Bush ahead by 4 points.

In this past week alone, the national Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll had Bush up by 13 points, down by 1 point, up by 11 points and now up by 3 points.

Experts attribute the disparities to the large number of polling agencies, each of which uses different techniques and voter samples. The basic methods used by the agencies are standard, but there are variables: what questions are asked, when the poll is conducted and how many people are surveyed.

Both David J. Bender, a veteran political analyst and former contributing editor for George, and Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of the Gallup polling agency, say that there are more polls this year than ever before.

While the record number seems to be a logical explanation for the wide discrepancies between polling agencies, it still does not explain the volatility of individual polling firms over short periods of time.

Maxine Isaacs, lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School of Government (KSG), says pollsters and news agencies have been careless and irresponsible this year in processing poll data.