Updating our polling guidance

by Lauren Easton, director of media relations on April 17, 2018

The 2018 AP Stylebook will include a new chapter on polls and surveys, adding details to help journalists report responsibly on public opinion research heading into the U.S. midterm elections.
The new chapter, available immediately to AP Stylebook Online subscribers, leads with longstanding guidance that the mere existence of a poll is not enough to make news. It adds that “poll results that seek to preview the outcome of an election must never be the lead, headline or single subject of any story.”

Deputy Managing Editor for Operations David Scott, who oversees AP’s polling unit, said:

A good pre-election poll can provide solid insight into what voters are thinking. In the heat of a campaign, that’s why they are so often intoxicating for journalists, for campaign staffers and, yes, for candidates, too. But the 2016 election was a reminder that polls aren’t perfect. They’re unquestionably a piece of the story, but never the whole story. The Stylebook update aims to serve as a steady reminder of that fact.

Chicago resident Sonja Russell casts her ballot in Illinois primary elections at the city's new early voting super site in downtown Chicago, March 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato) 
The update reflects the latest in polling science and the idea that some cutting-edge methodologies that incorporate opt-in online surveys may, after thorough review, be suitable for publication. Journalists are still encouraged to use probability-based surveys to accurately assess the public’s opinion.

“We’re excited about this much-needed update to our survey standards,” said AP Polling Editor Emily Swanson. “It maintains our commitment to high-quality polling while also taking into account the changing nature of polling and the latest research on poll methods.”

AP consulted with Pew Research Center and NORC at the University of Chicago as it developed the expanded guidance.

“It is more vital than ever for policymakers, journalists and citizens to become better informed consumers of surveys and data,” said Dan Gaylin, president and CEO of NORC at the University of Chicago. “We are proud to work with The Associated Press and support them in their continued efforts to promote rigorous standards for reporting on survey research and to help the public understand key characteristics of reliable data.”

The new polls and surveys chapter will debut in print when the 2018 AP Stylebook is published on May 30. Scott and Swanson will answer questions about the guidance in an @APStylebook Twitter chat today at 2:30 p.m. ET.

The AP Stylebook is the definitive resource for journalists and a must-have reference for writers, editors, students and professionals. It provides fundamental guidelines for spelling, language, punctuation, usage and journalistic style. 

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