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CNN Student News Learning Activity: Polling

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(CNN Student News) -- Students will create and evaluate public opinion polls.

Procedure

Begin with a brief discussion on public opinion polls, including why they are important and what makes them reliable and credible. Ask: How should a reliable public opinion poll differ from a poll you might take of your class or school? Refer students to online resources, including the CNN Student News One-Sheet: Political Polls, for guidance.

Next, divide students into groups and tell them to imagine that they have just been hired as pollsters for CNN. Their task is to create a hypothetical public opinion poll to gauge the mood of registered voters at a specific point in time on the candidates, issues or both.

Pose the following questions to help groups determine their polling samples and how their polls will be conducted: Will you use a random sample of voters or some other kind of sample? What method will you use to poll your sample? Will voters be contacted for this poll via the telephone, the Internet, in-person interviews or some other method?

To assist each group in crafting its poll questions, ask: What is it that your group is trying to determine? What questions will you ask? Remind students that their poll questions should be clear and unbiased, and should not be leading. Allow each group ample time to craft its questions.

Have each group write up its sampling, method and questions, and then exchange its poll with another group. Ask group members to analyze that poll using the following questions as a guide:

  1. Who is the sample for this poll? Is anyone left out who should be included?
  2. What method will be used to conduct this poll? Could this method or the sample affect the poll's results? Explain.
  3. Do any of the polling questions "lead" a respondent toward a specific answer? Are there any questions that are unclear or biased? If so, what changes would you suggest?
  4. Are there any events that could possibly skew the results of this poll? Explain.

Finally, have groups present their analyses of the polls to the class.

Conclude with a brief discussion about polls and the characteristics that make them useful in reflecting voter sentiment. Ask students to consider what questions an informed voter should ask when considering the results of a public opinion poll. (Point out that one of the most critical questions to ask is "Who commissioned this poll?")

Extension: Challenge students to use what they have learned to critically assess public opinion polls that they see throughout this election season.

Correlated Standards

Civics

Standard V. What are the Roles of the Citizen in American Democracy?

What are the responsibilities of citizens?

What civic dispositions or traits of private and public character are important to the preservation and improvement of American constitutional democracy?

How can citizens take part in civic life?

The National Standards for Civics and Government (http://www.civiced.org/912erica.htm) are published by the Center for Civic Education (http://www.civiced.org/index.php).

Social Studies

Standard X. Civic Ideals and Practices

Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of the ideals, principles, and practices of citizenship in a democratic republic.

The Curriculum Standards for Social Studies (http://www.socialstudies.org/standards/strands/) are published by the National Council for Social Studies (http://ncss.org/).

Keywords

public opinion poll, polling, sample, margin of error, reliability

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