Polling is more art than science. Once again, American pollsters have shown that they aren't as good as we thought.
Understanding the confidence interval will help you grasp what an election poll is -- or is not -- saying. As you might have guessed, the media consistently gets it wrong.
Anyone remotely familiar with the scientific method understands that just like a ruler or a telescope, statistics is a tool. Scientists use the tool primarily for one purpose: To answer the question, "Is my data meaningful?" Properly used, statistics is one of science's most powerful tools. But used improperly, statistics can be highly misleading.
What is a scientific poll? First, it is a misnomer. There is nothing scientific about a poll. Second, it is conducted using sound statistical techniques. What's more, savvy politicos know that not just any poll will do.
Gallup's recent poll on race relations asked a loaded question and lacked a control group. This is a recipe for very bad social science.