Strength in Numbers
How Polls Work and Why We Need Them
G. Elliott Morris
The question, “can we trust the polls?” has been the headline for countless articles. After the 2020 election, pundits, politicians, and prognosticators were even more worried than they had been in 2016 about whether polling was in a crisis.
Indeed, polling has not kept up with changes in technology and in voter behavior. But while forecasters failed to anticipate the election of Donald Trump in 2016 or his strength in 2020, the accuracy of polls in those elections, as well as in midterms and various special elections has been pretty much average by historical standards.
In Strength in Numbers: How Polls Work and Why We Need Them, G. Elliott Morris urges us to resist the idea that polls are worthless and untrustworthy and instead to focus on why saving them is critical to the survival of our democratic system. As the data journalist for the Economist, Elliott covers polls and elections for the magazine. And in his book, he looks at the history of polling to explain how we got to where we are today – and considers ways in which the industry can and must change to adapt to a wave of social, economic and technological challenges.
As polling and pollsters sort out their place in our political lives, Elliott Morris is ideally placed to reflect on the contribution they can and must play in preserving our democracy.
Published by W. W. Norton & Co.
Praise for Strength in Numbers
A persuasive case for the necessity of polling…Political junkies and policy analysts will savor this informative deep dive. ― Publishers Weekly Readers with a bent for statistics will take interest…Morris makes a solid case for polls as tools to give voice to the people while allowing that improvements are needed. ― Kirkus I can’t count the number of times people have asked me to explain polling and its errors. In the future my answer will simply be, ‘Read G. Elliott Morris’s superb book, Strength in Numbers.’ With a volume rich in useful detail and relevant history, Morris explains what has gone wrong with surveys in recent years and, more important, how to make public opinion polling better. ― Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics Many Americans may be ready to give up on polls, but through this engaging history of public-opinion research, Elliott Morris makes the case that they make our politics better, not worse. And he’s brimming with urgent ideas for how all of us―citizens, journalists, pollsters, and politicians―can make better use of a tool essential to a healthy democracy. ― Sasha Issenberg, author of The Engagement This book reads like a suspenseful whodunnit, tragedy, and love story for data. Packed with surprising history, fresh insights, and wise reforms, this is a landmark work that everyone who cares about society and politics must read. ― Kenneth Cukier, co-author of Big Data Morris provides a well-reported and thoughtful defense of the polls, while acknowledging their limitations. Strength in Numbers makes a timely and valuable contribution to the polling literature. ― Karlyn Bowman, Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute A compelling, accessible, and needed history lesson on the place of public opinion in our politics and a clearheaded rejoinder to the poll-bashers. ― Carlos Odio, cofounder, Equis Research In this lively story of the struggles and successes of polling from Gallup to the present day, Morris makes a convincing case that the measurement of public opinion is a key component of modern democracy. ― Andrew Gelman, Higgins Professor of Statistics, Columbia University