Surveys vs. Polls

Categories: Data Collection, Evaluation, Mixed, Other, Quantitative

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Collecting, analyzing, and reporting with data can be daunting. The person that SAGE Publishing — the parent of MethodSpace — turns to when it has questions is Diana Aleman – editor extraordinaire for SAGE Stats and U.S. Political Stats. And now she is bringing her trials, tribulations, and expertise with data to you in this blog, Tips with Diana. Stay tuned for Diana’s experiences, tips, and tricks with finding, analyzing and visualizing data. View Diana’s blog in its native habitat HERE.

What are polls and surveys?

Both polls and surveys are data collection methods used to reach a large and varied audience. They both have the potential to gather controlled, insightful data to gain a better understanding of a community of people. Both surveys and polls are helpful tools in learning more about a population’s opinions and characteristics, such as with political polls.

What’s the difference?

Surveys allow you to ask multiple questions at one time. The results may take longer to get because there’s more data to process. Also, people may not be comfortable giving out their personal information to a surveyor with whom they are unfamiliar. However, if you are interested in a certain demographic, a survey is ideal because you can ensure that you only get submissions from relevant participants.

Polls are essentially quick surveys with only one question that can be interpreted instantaneously. They are ideal for making small decisions and getting immediate data on public opinion. Polls also prove to be the better option when you have a specific set of options you want people to choose from, rather than having open-ended questions for people to answer. You might recognize an election ballot as a type of poll people encounter quite regularly.

Practical application

Surveys are implemented in infinite ways. For example in businesses, customer satisfaction surveys are a commonly used as a way to reach out to the customer base and get feedback on products or services in order to inform future improvements or pinpoint issues.

In the academic world, surveys serve as an important tool for undergraduates and researchers who need to collect human data for a project. They can easily be shared and marketed via online channels such as Facebook in order to get a large number of responses.

Polls are conducted on a more ad hoc basis and can be very casual. For instance, Twitter provides a polling option that you can tweet to followers to get their take on a topic. Political polls are another type of poll that constantly make the news, such as the following poll by NBC on President Trump’s job approval:


Before You Go

Consider: what are other popular means of gathering data?

For more in-depth, relevant content, check out this article about forms, surveys, and polls

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