One of the most prominent applications of survey research is election polling. In election years, much of the polling by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press focuses on people’s engagement in the election, opinions about the candidates, the campaign and voter preferences. Even in the so-called “off years,” many of our polls include questions about party identification, past voting behavior or voter reactions to events.

Pre-election polling provides one of the few times when pollsters can assess the validity of their work by measuring how well their polls match election outcomes. But, polls designed to measure voter intentions serve up some special challenges. How do you identify which respondents will actually vote? Are respondents honest when they tell us for whom they intend to vote? How will undecided voters make their final decisions?

Although election polls attract a great deal of attention for their ability to predict the outcome of elections, their most important function is to help journalists and citizens understand the meaning of the campaign and the election. Polls help to explain, among other things, what issues are important, how candidate qualities may affect voters’ decisions, and how much support there is for particular policy changes.

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