No, I don’t mean read it. Of course you can do that. I’m talking about reading into a poll. I do a lot of analysis on various polls to try and see how the results were computed. It takes a little effort and a decent amount of understanding on why and how we poll in the first place. But really anyone can do it. For starters, locate the .pdf file and begin reviewing the data.
For example, Jay Cost explains:
The primary issue relates to the population that polls are sampling. There are several populations to choose from, and we can conceive of this as a series of concentric circles.
The idea here is that each circle represents a different population that can be sampled – but with a twist. The adult population includes all other sub-populations, the registered voter population is smaller than the adult population but includes likely and actual voters, and so on. And of course we cannot poll the actual voters until after they have voted!
Each population is worth polling, albeit for different questions. For instance, if you want a gauge of “consumer confidence,” you naturally sample the adult population. If you want a measure of how voters think about the state of the economy, a poll of adults would not be your best bet.
The reason that polls become a partisan football is that the further out on the circles you move, the more Democratic the poll usually gets. Likely voter polls usually have fewer Democrats than registered voter polls, which have fewer Democrats than adult polls.
So the next time you are scratching your head by trying to understand one poll’s results over another one, refer back to Jay Cost’s rundown on polls, sampling rates, and the overall weight a poll carries. I am flagging this because it is a very easy read and explains a lot without getting into the murky world of political science — if such a world exists.