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Survey says: Polls are biased

Pollsters took a stark look into the mirror Tuesday, seeking to explain how a new survey found that three quarters of Americans say most polls are "biased toward a particular point of view."

"People don't trust the media and you've got a plethora of media polls that are taking over the conversation," said Obama campaign pollster Joel Benenson. Pew Research president Alan Murray cited a broader trend, arguing that "there is an element of this that people don't people trust anybody or any institution." (For polling on that trend, see here.)

Despite the negative overall assessment, the poll, which was conducted by the research firm Kantar, also demonstrated the public doesn't trust all polls equally. Nearly two-thirds say they trust surveys conducted by academic groups, and over half trust those by non-partisan foundations.

But more than two-thirds distrust polls conducted by political parties or candidates and automated telephone surveys. Media polls fall in the middle, with somewhat more distrusting than trusting.

Public opinion polls faced heightened criticism throughout the 2012 presidential election, but final pre-election polls proved quite accurate in the end, according to a report by the National Council on Public Polls. The average candidate error in national polls -- how much a poll missed the Obama-Romney margin, divided by two -- was on average 1.46 percentage points. Americans didn't award the showing; pollsters only received an average "C+ grade" in a post-election Pew Research Center poll, with just 49 percent of respondents giving pollsters an "A" or "B."

Regardless of the levels of trust in specific polling sources, people generally agree that polls are a good way for elected leaders to learn about what people think on important issues. Nearly three quarters say conducting polls is a good thing for their leaders to do and two thirds say they should at least be reading the polls if they are not conducting them.

Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.

Scott Clement is a survey research analyst for The Washington Post. Scott specializes in public opinion about politics, election campaigns and public policy.



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