Poll Project USA

PPUSA Polling Aggregation & Insights

A Helpful Guide To Political Polling

In this section, you’ll find definitions and other helpful tidbits that break down why and how polling is done for specific races across the United States.

What is Governor Polling?

Governor Polling is conducted to determine which party’s candidate is preferred by voters to lead their respective state from the Governor’s Mansion. For those newer to the political scene, think of a governor like the president of a single state. Due to how much easier it can be to craft a governor election campaign around local/state issues, parties that tend to continually get outvoted at the federal level for President and Senate tend to have a better chance in these races.

What is Senate Polling?

Senate Polling is conducted to determine which party’s candidate is preferred by voters to represent them in the United States Senate. For those newer to the political scene, all 50 states have 2 senators that serve for six-year terms. Senate races are federal races and tend to track closely with how presidential candidates perform in general elections.

What is Presidential Polling?

Presidential polling can be broken down into 2 groups: National and Statewide.

National Polling is a measure of the national popular vote, and attempts to gauge how the United States would vote as a whole when all votes across the entire country are counted. When you see polling of a presidential race in general terms, this is usually what’s being referenced.

Statewide Polling is a specific type of polling that attempts to gauge a single state’s preference for president. Battleground polling, the most common type of statewide polling near Election Day, captures voting intentions for states that are the most likely to swing a race towards victory for a candidateand often cast close to even amounts of votes for both major parties.

What is Primary Polling?

Primary Polling is conducted to measure how candidates in a particular race stack up against other members of the same political party. For most partisan races in the United States, it’s typically a showdown between one Democrat and one Republican. To win the right to be the party’s representative, candidates must first beat all other challengers in the same party. For instance, if 6 Democrats and 6 Republicans are running for Michigan’s Governorship, and only one spot for each party is allowed in the general election, a candidate (or outside agency) may conduct a poll to see who among each party’s group is in the lead, and most likely to face off against the other party’s chosen candidate.

What is Internal Polling?

Internal Polling is conducted by a polling firm on behalf of a candidate directly. Campaigns of all sizes rely on internal polling to make fundraising, advertising, staffing, and many other decisions. With the continued decrease in public polling due to increasing costs, declining response rates, and difficulty in reaching various subsets of voters, internal polling has become increasingly pronounced in the campaign universe. GSG, Garin-Hart-Yang, and PPP are common internal pollsters for Democratic candidates, whereas Cygnal, Public Opinion Strategies, and McLaughlin & Associates are often used by Republican candidates.

What is Generic Ballot Polling?

Generic Congressional Ballot (GCB) polls measure which party voters prefer leading the country at large. In some cases, they’re also used to test how an average Democrat and/or average Republican would fare in a specific district or state.

This polling question doesn’t name any specific candidate (hence the name, generic ballot), it merely asks which party a respondent would rather have represent them. Since the GCB is used most commonly on a national-scale, the larger a lead one party has for this specific question, the better, as it could indicate a wave election. This is when one party’s candidates sweep a host of competitive (and potentially a smaller amount of seemingly non-competitive) elections nationwide.

What is an “Informed Ballot”?

Informed Ballots are information-loaded questions used by pollsters to increase the amount of background knowledge a poll respondent is aware of instead of polling based on current knowledge. As the name implies, the pollster will “inform” a polltaker of specific information designed to sway a respondent to answer a certain way. Generally, informed ballot questions will cite one of three things: a specific vote an elected official made, a position a candidate holds, or a scandal a candidate/official was involved in. The pollster will inform the voter of that information before asking a ballot test question (i.e., Will you vote for Candidate A or Candidate B?).

Informed ballot questions vary from pollster to pollster, but an example may look something like this:

“Candidate A was recently caught up in a series of campaign finance violations, while Candidate B has a strong background with money management and makes it a point to be transparent about fundraising.
Knowing this information, do you plan to vote for Candidate A or B?”

Note: Informed ballots are not an accurate measurement of a polled electorate, and generally serve as a means to generate media headlines, or a means for fundraising pitches.

What is a Partisan Pollster?

Partisan Pollsters are polling firms that have a vested interest in a specific candidate or political party.

PPUSA’s official definition of a partisan pollster is a polling firm that either has a history of partnering with candidates of one political party, or a history of partnering with organization(s) that promote issues favorable to one political party.

A partisan pollster’s results are not any less valid than an independent firms’, though on average, partisan firms tend to end up with results slightly more favorable to the candidate or party they support.