Analysis & Opinions - Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation

Using AI for Political Polling

| June 07, 2024

Will AI-assisted polls soon replace more traditional techniques?

Public polling is a critical function of modern political campaigns and movements, but it isn’t what it once was. Recent US election cycles have producedcopiouspostmortems explaining both the successes and the flaws of public polling. There are two main reasons polling fails.

First, nonresponse has skyrocketed. It’s radically harder to reach people than it used to be. Few people fill out surveys that come in the mail anymore. Few people answer their phone when a stranger calls. Pew Research reported that 36% of the people they called in 1997 would talk to them, but only 6% by 2018. Pollsters worldwide have faced similar challenges.

Second, people don’t always tell pollsters what they really think. Some hide their true thoughts because they are embarrassed about them. Others behave as a partisan, telling the pollster what they think their party wants them to say – or what they know the other party doesn’t want to hear.

Despite these frailties, obsessive interest in polling nonetheless consumes our politics. Headlines more likely tout the latest changes in polling numbers than the policy issues at stake in the campaign. This is a tragedy for a democracy. We should treat elections like choices that have consequences for our lives and well-being, not contests to decide who gets which cushy job.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Berger, Aaron, Bruce Schneier, Eric Gong and Nathan Sanders.“Using AI for Political Polling.” Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, June 7, 2024.

The Authors

Nathan Sanders