In today’s data-driven world, understanding public opinion has never been more crucial. When it comes to collecting data, two common terms often cause confusion: “polling” and “surveys.” While they might seem interchangeable, there are subtle yet significant differences between the two. Let’s take a closer look.

Polling – a Snapshot of Sentiment in Time
Polling is a method employed to measure public opinion on specific issues. It typically involves a concise set of questions designed to gather quick responses. Think of it as taking a snapshot of public sentiment at a particular moment in time. Political polls, for instance, are prevalent during elections. Polls serve a brief, momentary purpose.

Surveys – Diving Deep into Data
In contrast, surveys encompass a broader field of data collection. They aren’t limited to gauging narrow opinion, but can be employed to gather information on various topics. Surveys are more in-depth, probing into a wide range of issues and seeking detailed responses. They enable a deeper exploration of attitudes, behaviors, and demographics. Surveys can be conducted through multiple channels, including online platforms, email, phone, or in-person interviews.

Sample Size – More Data does More
Polls often involve smaller sample sizes due to their focused nature. They aim to provide a snapshot of opinion within a specific target group.

Surveys, on the other hand, typically require larger sample sizes to ensure statistical reliability, especially when examining crosstabulations of two questions.

Timing and Flexibility
Polls are usually conducted within a tight timeframe, focusing on delivering quick results for immediate analysis. They aim to capture sentiment swiftly to inform imminent decision-making processes.

In contrast, surveys can span an extended period, allowing time to collect a more comprehensive dataset. This extended timeframe permits in-depth analysis and provides a deeper understanding of various factors influencing opinions.

What Term Should You Use?
While the term “polling” is commonly used in the media and during campaigns, “survey” is likely more accurate when discussing quantitative research that is used to inform strategic plans, shape public policy, and gain feedback from members or stakeholders.