Polling People & Pollsters


Facts & Fiction



By Dr. Kenneth Smith, PMP

Honolulu, Hawaii

& Manila, The Philippines

Amongst other events, 2022 ushers in many new rounds of national, state and local elections in the US, the Philippines, and doubtless several other countries; so I thought it would be timely to offer some observations about and insights on statistical surveys for political polling — a familiar phenomenon which will inundate us all again during the year.

In addition to monitoring and evaluating programs & projects, surveys are a prime tool political pollsters use to cite the status, track trends about issues of political import, as well as predict the outcomes of contending candidates.  If conducted correctly and objectively, taking the pulse of the electorate political polls can be very informative.  Otherwise, such surveys only become propaganda practices of the unscrupulous to deliberately distort public perception &/or persuade potential voters to favor particular candidates &/or particular positions on contentious issues.

Although there are many professional polling organizations, pollsters come in all colors, shapes and sizes with varying ethical standards, and I sometimes wonder whether partisan pollsters even really want to know the true situation,[1] or whether — at the outset — they deliberately design and launch their surveys to distort the results in favor of their candidate, or a desired outcome.

In any event, here are a few guidelines regarding Survey Sampling, Size, Source, Structure & Statistical Significance for poll watchers to assess the worth of the polls in which they have an interest — and the results therefrom — that unbiased poll practitioners use to gather data, analyze and report their findings.


There are several different methods for conducting surveys, and sampling.

Random Sampling

Random Sampling is probably the most often referred to, although — far from the common perception of ‘randomness’ as haphazard – in professional sampling, random really means selecting individuals for the representative sample from the target population without conscious bias.  To emphasize this distinction of objectivity, randomness is further qualified as Scientific Random Sampling, with prescribed objective Systematic procedures for selecting the samples. 

At least theoretically therefore, each potential respondent in the target population should have an equal chance of being included in the sample.  However, unless pollsters have access to a ‘master-list’ of the total target population under study – such as a list of registered voters — from which to draw samples; and use it appropriately — this is all but impossible in many communities, &/or situations.

Cluster Sampling

Another common approach is Cluster Samplingwith groups of sampled individuals pre-selected on the basis of their different geographic area, persuasions or interests.  Logistically, many more individuals can be reached in a shorter time by this method – such as a town hall, school board, or other pre-announced public meetingHowever, without a master-list of the individuals and their commonality, again the actual composition and proportional makeup (and thus the representativeness) of the sample from the target population may be difficult to determine.

A related concern is how the individuals express their opinions to the pollster’s representatives – whether individually and privately, or publicly in a “Focus Group” setting, as this could distort their objectivity. [More on this aspect later.]


To read entire article, click here

How to cite this article: Smith, K. F. (2022).  Polling People & Pollsters: Facts & Fiction, Commentary, PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue I, January. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/pmwj113-Jan2022-Smith-polling-people-and-pollsters-advisory.pdf

About the Author

Dr. Kenneth Smith

Honolulu, Hawaii
& Manila, The Philippines

Initially a US Civil Service Management Intern, then a management analyst & systems specialist with the US Defense Department, Ken subsequently had a career as a senior foreign service officer — management & evaluation specialist, project manager, and in-house facilitator/trainer — with the US Agency for International Development (USAID).  Ken assisted host country governments in many countries to plan, monitor and evaluate projects in various technical sectors; working ‘hands-on’ with their officers as well as other USAID personnel, contractors and NGOs.  Intermittently, he was also a team leader &/or team member to conduct project, program & and country-level portfolio analyses and evaluations.

Concurrently, Ken had an active dual career as Air Force ready-reservist in Asia (Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines) as well as the Washington D.C. area; was Chairman of a Congressional Services Academy Advisory Board (SAAB); and had additional duties as an Air Force Academy Liaison Officer.  He retired as a ‘bird’ colonel.

After retirement from USAID, Ken was a project management consultant for ADB, the World Bank, UNDP and USAID.

He earned his DPA (Doctor of Public Administration) from the George Mason University (GMU) in Virginia, his MS from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT Systems Analysis Fellow, Center for Advanced Engineering Study), and BA & MA degrees in Government & International Relations from the University of Connecticut (UCONN).  A long-time member of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and IPMA-USA, Ken is a Certified Project Management Professional (PMP®) and a member of the PMI®-Honolulu and Philippines Chapters.

Ken’s book — Project Management PRAXIS (available from Amazon) — includes many innovative project management tools & techniques; and describes a “Toolkit” of related templates available directly from him at kenfsmith@aol.com on proof of purchase of PRAXIS.

To view other works by Ken Smith, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/dr-kenneth-smith/

[1] “Newspaper Cancels Poll Because They Didn’t Like the Results.”  On December 15, The Guardian posted a piece about Time Magazine’s decision to grant Elon Musk the title of “person of the year.” At the end of the article was a poll, asking readers “Who would be your 2021 person of the year, and why?” Responses surged in and world-renowned author JK Rowling soared into the top spot. Soon after, the poll was nixed. The British newspaper took down their online poll after seeing that JK Rowling was in the lead. BlabberBuzz. Saturday, 01 January 2022. [ Rowling had recently been outspoken about gender, and in reaction was accused of being transphobic and a TERF — a scathing acronym that stands for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist.”]