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An insightful exploration of political polling and a bold defense of its crucial role in a modern democracy.
Public opinion polling is the ultimate democratic process; it gives every person an equal voice in letting elected leaders know what they need and want. But in the eyes of the public, polls today are tarnished. Recent election forecasts have routinely missed the mark and media coverage of polls has focused solely on their ability to predict winners and losers. Polls deserve better.
In Strength in Numbers, data journalist G. Elliott Morris argues that the larger purpose of political polls is to improve democracy, not just predict elections. Whether used by interest groups, the press, or politicians, polling serves as a pipeline from the governed to the government, giving citizens influence they would otherwise lack. No one who believes in democracy can afford to give up on polls; they should commit, instead, to understanding them better.
In a vibrant history of polling, Morris takes readers from the first semblance of data-gathering in the ancient world through to the development of modern-day scientific polling. He explains how the internet and “big data” have solved many challenges in polling—and created others. He covers the rise of polling aggregation and methods of election forecasting, reveals how data can be distorted and misrepresented, and demystifies the real uncertainty of polling. Candidly acknowledging where polls have gone wrong in the past, Morris charts a path for the industry’s future where it can truly work for the people.
Persuasively argued and deeply researched, Strength in Numbers is an essential guide to understanding and embracing one of the most important and overlooked democratic institutions in the United States.
G. Elliott Morris is a data journalist for the Economist, where he writes about American politics and elections. He lives in Washington, DC.
Morris will be in conversation with Jamelle Bouie, a columnist for the New York Times and political analyst for CBS News. He covers campaigns, elections, national affairs, and culture. Previously, Jamelle was chief political correspondent for Slate magazine and a staff writer at The Daily Beast ; he also held fellowships at The American Prospect and The Nation magazine.