Some polling about … polling!! NJers think polls matter to democracy and are somewhat trusting of them, but question their accuracy

Our 200th poll has been a whirlwind so far with releases on terrorism, Gov. Christie, and life here in New Jersey.  For this special occasion, we wanted to go a bit “meta” and poll New Jerseyans on what they think about … well, polling itself!

Polls have been in the news a lot lately.  Everyone is doing a poll; every day there is a new one. So it’s easy to get poll fatigue.  Luckily, New Jerseyans still seem to have some faith in the process – even though they do not necessarily think polls are always accurate.  But even with all this polling going on, New Jerseyans recognize that polls are an important part of our democracy and help to get the voice of the people heard by their leaders.

To learn more about polling and how to be a good poll consumer, visit the American Association for Public Opinion Research or the National Council on Public Polls.

The full text of the release is below. Click here for a PDF of the release with text, questions, and tables.


New Jerseyans think polls matter, are important in influencing policymaking

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – While discussion and controversy surround polling’s role in the race to the White House in 2016, New Jerseyans still have some faith in the public opinion polling process, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Fifty percent trust polls a fair amount and another 4 percent, a great deal. On the other hand, 36 percent do not trust polls very much, and 9 percent do not trust them at all.

But whether polls are consistently accurate is up for debate with New Jerseyans. Almost no one thinks they are always accurate, and only 21 percent say polls are mostly accurate. Still, 69 percent believes polls are accurate at least some of the time; only 5 percent discount them all the time.

Despite some reservations, New Jerseyans believe polling plays an important role in the democratic process, with 55 percent thinking it influences government decisions and policymaking. Reflecting that polls give citizens a chance to have their say, 77 percent feel political leaders should use poll results to help them understand public opinion on issues.

Many respondents moreover cite polling’s connection to democracy when asked why they chose to participate in this Rutgers-Eagleton Poll: one in five mention something about wanting their voice to be heard, the importance of polling in society, or doing their civic duty. But above all, New Jerseyans cite having the time to talk as their number one reason for participating.

“For our 200th poll, we thought we’d turn our sights inward a bit, and ask about some of the big questions currently facing polling, such as public perceptions of accuracy, trust and the whole point of it all,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “It’s refreshing to learn that, even with today’s deluge of polls, Garden State residents still see the importance of this scientific method of understanding public opinion and the vital role it plays in the democratic process.”

A third of New Jerseyans claim to follow the results of polls regularly. Just under half say they had been interviewed in the past for at least one public opinion poll or survey prior to talking with the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

Results are from a statewide poll of 843 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Nov. 30 to Dec. 6, 2015. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.8 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Trust and accuracy depend on familiarity, knowledge

Polling is not a partisan issue. Instead, trust and belief in polling’s accuracy is rooted in respondents’ prior knowledge and interaction with public opinion surveys. Those previously interviewed for a poll are much more likely to trust polls overall – 62 percent versus 47 percent among those talking to a pollster for the first time. They are also slightly more likely to say that polls are mostly accurate (24 percent to 19 percent).

Regular followers of polls also have more confidence in them. Seventy-one percent of those who regularly follow polls trust them, compared to 45 percent of those who do not; regular followers are also six points more likely to believe polls are mostly accurate.

Beliefs about polling’s role in a democracy also connect to general views on polling. Those who think polls matter in policymaking and should be used by political leaders are more likely to trust polls and believe them to be accurate.

Education has an influence as well. Individuals with a high school diploma or less are the least likely to trust polls (46 percent), while those who have done graduate work are the most likely (62 percent); the former are also least likely to believe polls are accurate.

Trust and accuracy unsurprisingly have a significant impact on one another: the more Garden Staters trust polls, the more they think they are accurate, and the more accurate they think they are, the more trust there is.

“The mystery and skepticism surrounding polls fades when you know a bit about them and how they work,” Koning. “It can be really hard to see how so few people can represent the entire state. Thus, it becomes important to learn how to be a good consumer of polls and know how to separate the good from the bad. Only then can one understand their benefits and limitations.”

Widespread agreement that polls are important

Even as most New Jersey residents agree that polls matter for policymaking and leaders should use them, there are noticeable differences across some demographic groups. Women are 7 points more likely than men to believe leaders should use polls to help determine what the public wants. However, residents over 65 are more likely to balk at the idea than younger New Jerseyans, who are more supportive of leaders using polls.

Education also makes a difference, probably because those who are more educated are also more trusting of polls. Residents whose education ended with a high school diploma are less likely to think leaders should use polls to understand public sentiment. Those with at least some graduate school are more likely than others to think that polls influence government decisions and policy.

Familiarity with polls themselves also plays a large part in beliefs about them. Regular followers of polls are more likely than others to agree that polling is important in policymaking and to say polls should be used by policymakers. Beliefs about polling’s importance also increase with trust and perceptions of accuracy.

New Jerseyans have the time to talk

Asked why they decided to participate in the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, the most popular answer among respondents had something to do with time: 18 percent cited something about being available, having time, having nothing better to do, or even being bored as their reason for participating. Not far behind is New Jerseyans’ democratic desire for their voice to be heard, at 13 percent.

Twelve percent say something about the interviewer made them decide to go through with the interview – his or her personality, voice, friendliness, or even the fact that the interviewer is a student. Nine percent say they wanted to participate because of either the poll’s Rutgers affiliation or their own connection to the university.

Other reasons mentioned for doing the poll include: wanting to help and be a part of research (9 percent); a general curiosity about polling (8 percent); an interest in politics overall or the specific topics that were asked (7 percent); simply because they were asked to participate (6 percent); because they feel polls are important (4 percent); a sense of civic duty (3 percent); and something to do with New Jersey itself, either because the poll was asking about it or because the respondent wanted to assist their state (2 percent).

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