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Digging Deeper: a look at how Marquette poll results are tabulated

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EAU CLAIRE (WQOW) - The day before the 2016 election, a Wall Street Journal headline read that Hillary Clinton was most likely going to win the election. As we all know, those predictions were wrong.

"We were all wrong," said director of the Marquette Law School Poll Charles Franklin. "There were over 30 polls in the state. None of us ever had Trump ahead."

Franklin said this year is different, especially when it comes to undecided voters. According to Franklin, there are significantly less voters who will chose a candidate at the last minute today as there were four years ago.

"That disaffected group that disliked both candidates and in the end broke heavily for Trump, that's a much smaller number. Instead of 22% in 2016 it's 8% this year."

None the less, Franklin said polls don't vote, people do. This message is also being made by Democrats in Wisconsin, who lost the state by a little over 20,000 votes.

"As 2016 showed us, polls are just a snap shot of things," said Representative Jodi Emerson. "We need people at the polling places to actually cast their vote."

But how much we trust political polls revolves around understanding how they are created. The first step is writing the questions.

As director of the Marquette Poll, Franklin is in charge of writing the questions. He said the questions have to be completely neutral as to not pursue the interviewee to answer a certain way.

"We try to write direct questions that aren't too convoluted or complicated," he said.

The next step- asking people those questions. They reach out to Wisconsinites on their cell phones and landlines. Those calls are made from a call center by people who conduct phone surveys all year round.

According to Franklin, 90% of these phone calls go unanswered.

"It actually turns out to be a little hard to call up a stranger cold and get them to talk to you for 15 minutes about politics," he said.

When you are randomly chosen for their survey you might receive as many as six calls in a few days from the call center. When someone does answer, they are asked 30 questions by the caller about the issues of the day.

And nearly as important as the political questions are demographic ones like age, education, race and gender.

“Demographics are very important because we want to make sure we are representing the state," he said.

But do the respondents accurately represent the state? If not, they may weigh the responses. For example, if only three out of ten men answer the survey but they make up half the population, their response will count for a little more so their group can be accurately represented in the poll.

So, why do we even care about the Marquette Poll? Franklin told said he cares not just to know how the candidates are doing but to know how Wisconsinites feel about social issues.

“What are people thinking? What are they concerned about?"

As for if we can trust polls, Franklin equated it to the score of a football game as it's happening. It tells you who is winning but not who's won. And again, polls do not vote, people do.

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Felicity Bosk

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