A pollster is an individual or organization who conducts polls for the purpose of collecting data about demographic groups and voting blocs. He or she uses data to assess trends that have the potential to impact political campaigns and election cycles. Some pollsters their research as a public service to help voters stay informed. Others offer private services, collecting poll information to help campaigns form an election strategy. Still others gather voter information to try to predict an election’s outcome. A pollster may also be used by businesses to analyze market trends.
Many pollsters publish their findings for use as a public resource. They are a useful tool for anyone who, for example, may have an interest in a president’s public approval rating; it also can show how much public support may be behind a particular legislative act.
To the public, people in this position may simply be regarded as one informative resource out of many, but for political candidates they’re a necessary part of constructing a winning campaign. A pollster who works privately for a campaign compiles specialized research in an attempt to learn as much as possible about voter demographics. By finding out voter preference and demographic trends, he or she may help a candidate and campaign staff put together the most effective election strategy.
Although many pollsters focus heavily on gathering pre-election opinion research, the polling doesn’t generally stop when voting starts. During voting, pollsters ask individuals who just cast their vote to reveal for whom they voted. This is called exit polling. Exit poll research is used as an indicator of what an ongoing election's outcome may be. News organizations, web sites and bloggers all use exit poll research.
Like any other poll, exit polls can be misleading; this occurs most often when polled voters aren't an accurate representation of the majority of votes cast. When Harry S. Truman defeated Thomas E. Dewey in the 1948 US presidential election, for example, it came as a shock to many of the media and public who had assumed, largely from errant exit polls, that Dewey was the winner. The Chicago Tribune was so duped that it infamously ran a headline proclaiming "Dewey Defeats Truman."