A political poll is a mechanism used to collate, measure, extrapolate and/or synthesize the public opinion and perception of a given subject or topic based on the responses obtained from a select group of respondents. Using mathematical models, probability inferences, psychological and socioeconomic dynamics, polling firms are able to provide their clients, and the public, with logical statistical conclusions and observations.

Unlike a census, which is the absolute survey of all citizens at scheduled multi-year intervals, political polls (or other polls, for that matter), are conducted using a variable sampling of the population conducted on a random, though highly frequent regularity. The difference in approach is primarily due to the logistical and economic barriers of performing regular nation-wide surveys.

However, variable samplings of the population will inevitably result in errors (margin of error), which can be determined from the confidence coefficient. The coefficient is calculated from the deviation between the true values of the sample parameters and the actual population (confidence interval).

The first recorded political poll in the country was conducted by The Harrisburg Pennsylvanian in 1824. Using a decidedly unscientific approach (random man on the street method), the paper, nonetheless, correctly predicted Andrew Jackson's presidential election victory over rival John Quincy Adams. That proved to be the catalyst for the growth of the nascent field of polling, and as a result, political polling became a fixture in almost every major publication over the next century.

Scientific political polls, though, only came into prominence in the 20th century. One of the giants of the early 20th-century American education marvel, Professor Abbott Lawrence Lowell (1856-1943), introduced the science of polling to mainstream scholars with the publication of his two groundbreaking books, Public Opinion and Popular Government (1913) and Public Opinion in War and Peace (1923).

However, political polling displayed its real value to the world in the summer of 1945.

The Second World War was nearing its conclusion. Following Adolph Hitler's suicide and Benito Mussolini's assassination, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy surrendered to the Allied forces. Japan was the only remaining major power from the original Axis nations still fighting. Europe was about to wake up from its worst nightmare.

Londoners were heaving loud sighs of relief; gone was the specter of nighttime Nazi bombing raids. Legendary British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was a hero, and alongside the recently deceased President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was hailed as a statesman of the world. There was a sense of restrained euphoria in the British Isles even as they mourned their dead.

Churchill's Conservative Party was expected to win the July parliamentary election and lead the kingdom's rebuilding efforts. Almost every major media agency predicted a Churchill reelection triumph, except for the new kid on the block, the Gallup International Association. Using the relatively new scientific system invented by founder George Gallup, the firm was one of the handful that forecasted a victory for Clement Atlee's Labour Party. No one took them seriously, which in retrospect, was surprising, because Gallup, against popular opinion, correctly predicted former President Roosevelt's victory over Gov. Alf Landon in the 1936 presidential election.

Nevertheless, Gallup was ultimately proven right. The Labour Party won the election by a landslide, and Clement Atlee became the first Prime Minister from the party.

Political polling has never been the same since, and is now considered an indispensable element in the tool box of modern politicians.





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