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Types of Polls: Exploring Polling Methods & Their Significance

Kate Williams

11 March 2024

9 min read

Have you ever wondered what’s behind those graphs and charts you see on the news? Often, they are the results of polls, a tool used to collect public opinions on everything, ranging from politics to product preferences. There are different types of polls to gather various kinds of data.

In this blog, we’ll explore the major types, their purpose, how they work, and some examples to help you understand better.

So, why don’t we start with…

What’s a Poll?

A poll is a method or study that collects the opinions and preferences of a specific set of people on a precise topic. 

It acts as a conduit for gathering insights from diverse respondents. They come in different forms, from traditional paper-based surveys to modern online platforms. The poll results are then analyzed to identify trends and patterns within the target population.

Their beauty, though, lies in their simplicity and effectiveness!

What you get from them is a snapshot of public sentiments. Whether assessing consumer preferences, tracking political trends, or measuring employee satisfaction, you need them as they help you make decisions and strategize.

So, what’s a poll? It’s a handy way to hear from many people and make smarter choices based on what they say.

Did You Know?
The word ‘poll’ is a Middle English term that means ‘head’ or ‘top of the head.’ Over time, it evolved to denote the counting of heads or votes, particularly in political contexts.

Now, I know what’s lurking in your minds…

How do polls work?

It’s simple. The core is the Representative Sample. Once the sample is chosen, participants are asked questions about the topic of interest. Then, the data collected from the responses is analyzed to identify trends and patterns.

Now comes our topic of interest.

Types of Polls

You see, data is king. There is no doubt about that. But sometimes, numbers do not make up the most critical data. Instead, it is what people think.

Polls are a fantastic way to tap into thoughts and get a pulse of what the public cares about. But again, with so many types out there, choosing the right one for your needs can be tricky.

Don’t worry, though! I’ll walk you through the most common types of polls, how they work, and how to use them to get the information you want.


Let’s start with the most common one:

1. Opinion Poll

An Opinion poll is like a mind-reading machine. It helps you understand the thoughts and feelings of a specific group of people. This poll involves asking the same questions to individuals. It is done to get the collective opinion on a topic or issue.

The aim is to provide insights into public sentiments and preferences.

What’s the Purpose?

  • Representation: The primary goal is to represent the target audience accurately.
  • Decision Making: They help make informed decisions, predict election outcomes, and measure public support for policies or candidates.

How does it work?

Imagine you want to know if the people of your town prefer tea or coffee. You can’t go and ask every single one, right? So, you create a poll.

First, you define your target audience – maybe adults in your town. Then, you choose a representative sample, like 100 people from different age groups and neighborhoods. Finally, you ask your question: “Coffee or tea?” and analyze the responses to see which beverage wins.

Examples in Action

  • News Organizations: They use it to determine public opinion on current events and political candidates.
  • Marketing Firms: Teams use polls to understand customer preferences and product satisfaction.

Now, an online poll maker will help you collect this data quickly. For instance, you can try SurveySparrow. The platform lets you create polls without the hassle of coding! Plus, the conversational UI and the drag-and-drop feature make creating them easy as pie.

You can choose the different question types, add an image or video in the background, and make it engaging to reap 40% more responses! Also, the polls are multilingual and can be shared via multiple platforms.

Would you like to give it a try? Sign up right here and let your audience experience conversational polling!

(But before that, get the feel of an engaging poll with this template! If you like it, feel free to use and customize it!)

Online Political Poll Template

2. Benchmark Poll

The initial poll is conducted right before or shortly after a campaign is officially launched.

Unlike opinion polls that take human sentiments as the metrics, benchmark polls are all about internal insights. The results help an organization understand its stand in the market before it dives in.

Much like getting an ego boost. If you or your organization fall behind, you can take measures early on to improve!

What’s the purpose of a Benchmark Poll?

  • Identifier: In this example, the poll identifies voter demographics that are supportive, opposed, or persuadable.
  • Guide Strategies: It highlights strengths, weaknesses, and effective messaging approaches to get a clear picture.

How does it work?

Let’s take the example of a political candidate considering a run for office. They will conduct a benchmark poll before launching a campaign.

This poll will ultimately target a select group of potential voters, asking questions like- “Are you familiar with Candidate X?” or “What issues are most important to you?”

The results from this poll are like a starting point. It lets them know where they stand and what strategies must be implemented for a win.


Let me talk about some examples other than political campaigns.

  • Product Launches: Companies do polls to analyze the visibility of their brand. This helps them understand what the audiences need from their product and what message might interest them.
  • Fundraising Efforts:  When organizations raise money for a cause, polls help to find which people might donate and how much they care about the cause.

3. Straw Poll

Straw polls are informal or ad hoc votes conducted to measure consensus or opinions within a group quickly. It is often used in meetings to determine the prevailing sentiment.

There are no set rules or processes for a straw poll. Just like drawing a straw, an impromptu opinion vote is conducted. Remember when you used to raise your hand when your teacher asked who wanted PE instead of Math for the final hour? It’s pretty much like that!

What’s the Purpose?

  • Testing the Waters: It tests public opinion on a new idea or proposal.
  • Discussions: These polls spark discussion and debates within a group. This brings different perspectives and viewpoints to the table.

How does it work?

Movie polls on a house part are the best example to explain this.

Someone might throw out a casual question: “Straw poll – who wants to watch a comedy?” followed by a show of hands or a quick “yay” or “nay” vote. This simple process gives a basic idea of which movie genre is most popular in your group.

Examples in action

Straw polls pop up in various scenarios:

  • Social gatherings, just as we discussed above.
  • Online Forums: Unofficial elections are conducted to see which topics generate the most interest among community members.

4. Tracking Poll

This involves constant monitoring. There is no single snapshot here!

A tracking poll surveys a fixed group of people repeatedly over a period of time. The same group of people are asked the same questions over some time to track and observe changes.

This is like conducting a longitudinal study on public opinions and sentiments.

The intervals between the polls could be any time span: weekly, monthly, or even daily.

What’s the purpose?

  • Measuring Opinion Change: researchers understand how public opinion evolves. It provides insights into changing attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors.
  • Predicting Trends: By tracking beliefs, opinions, and preferences over time, you get patterns and trends that help predict future outcomes.

How does it work?

Let’s take the example of a news organization tracking public opinion on the upcoming election. They might conduct a monthly poll on the candidate preference, asking the same core questions.

By analyzing the results over time, they can see if a particular candidate is gaining momentum or if a specific issue is becoming more important to voters.

Examples in action

  • Brand Health Tracking: Companies conduct the poll to track brand perception and health, monitoring changes in brand awareness, favorability, and loyalty over time.
  • Consumer Sentiment Index: Market research firms use tracking polls to measure consumer confidence and sentiment, providing insights into economic trends and consumer behavior.

5. Bushfire poll

If you want real-time opinions, bushfire poll it is.

This ad-hoc survey collects real-time public opinion on current issues, political campaigns, social movements, or crisis management. It is conducted in the aftermath of an important event. Now, they are mainly useful when you need raw opinions from the affected population.

Emergencies are unpredictable, and bushfire polls must be adaptable and flexible in their methodology. They may employ various data collection methods. E.g., online surveys, phone interviews, or face-to-face interactions, depending on the circumstances.


  • Public Opinions: These polls check what people think about how the government handled things, evacuations, and how much community support got.
  • Identifying Needs: These polls find out what people urgently need, like a place to stay, medical help, or essential services.

How does it work?

Right after a natural calamity, have you seen news reporters arrive at the concerned location and ask people questions? This is to give the public an idea of the opinions of those affected firsthand by the disaster. With the results, people can make up their minds about the issues.


  • Post-Earthquake Survey: As mentioned above, a bushfire poll assesses public perceptions of building safety, emergency response effectiveness, and community resilience.

Here’s another relatable example:

  • Pandemic Response Evaluation: During a global health crisis, health authorities conduct a poll to assess public compliance with preventive measures, perceptions of risk, and access to healthcare services.

Let’s wrap the list up with two standard polls that all of you might relate to.

6. Entrance Poll

This poll type is conducted right before the voters vote at polling stations. (It is taken at the entrance, hence the name!)

It aims to gather information on who the voter plans to vote for or similar questions related to electoral choices. The questions asked will be related to voter preferences and candidate choices.


  • Forecast Election Results: It helps to get a snapshot of voter preferences before the public votes.
  • Understanding Voter Behavior: It helps the candidates and analysts understand the electorate better.


  • Presidential or Local Elections: Conducted to assess voter preferences for different candidates, key issues driving voter turnout, and demographic shifts in voting patterns.

7. Exit Poll

Exit polls are crucial in terms of the electoral process. It provides insights into voter behavior right after they have cast their votes. They essentially serve as fraud detectors and help maintain the election’s integrity.

What’s the Purpose?

  • Swing Analysis: These polls help calculate swing and turnouts by analyzing voter preferences based on the data collected from different stations.
  • Assessing Electoral Trends: Analysts can estimate changing patterns by comparing the current exit poll with the previous one in the same booth.

Example in action

  • Primary Elections: You get data and insights into intra-party dynamics—candidate appeal among different demographics and the overall mood of the electorate leading up to the general election.

Read More: Best Poll Apps to Look for

Polling Methods and Approaches

Let me quickly walk you through the different ways to conduct a poll:

  • Online Polls: These polls are done on the internet and are easy to share on social media or websites. They’re great for getting quick feedback from a lot of people.
  • Telephone Polls: These polls are done over the phone. Even though they’re not as popular as before, they’re still used, especially in political surveys.
  • Mail-in Polls: People get questionnaires in the mail, fill them out, and send them back. They’re slower than online polls but give us another way to collect information.
  • Delphi Method: Experts give their opinions anonymously through several rounds of discussions until they reach an agreement.

Here are the different question types that can be included:

  • Likert Scale Polls: These polls use a scale from strongly agree to disagree to measure how strongly people feel about something.
  • Multiple Choice Polls: People choose from a list of options. These polls are easy to understand and analyze, making them popular for market research.
  • Ranked Choice Polls: Voters rank their choices instead of just picking one. This helps us understand preferences better, especially when there are many options.

If you want a list of questions, here are a few:

1.  Likert Scale Questions
2. Multiple Choice Questions
3. Rating Scale Questions

How to Conduct a Poll

Here are five quick steps:

  • Define Purpose: Clearly state what you want to know.
  • Choose Method: Pick the best way to reach your audience.
  • Craft Questions: Make questions clear and unbiased.
  • Reach Audience: Get your survey through email, social media, or other means.
  • Analyze Results: Look at the answers and see what they mean for your goal.

Importance and Purpose of Online Polls

Just as we mentioned in each type, the primary purpose of a poll is to gather insights into your audience’s preferences. Let’s elaborate on that once more:

  • Inform Decision-Making: They give decision-makers important information to make choices. For instance, a company can use online polls to understand customer preferences and improve its products.
  • Engage the Public: Everyone has a say! When people feel like they’re being listened to, they’re more likely to participate in decisions that affect them.
  • Predict Trends: We can guess what might happen by looking at what people think now. This helps governments, businesses, and others plan.
  • Evaluate Performance: It helps us see if things are working well. For instance, if a company wants to know if customers like their new product, they can use polls to find out.
  • Promote Accountability: Polls can help keep leaders and organizations honest. Knowing people are watching and giving feedback makes them more likely to do a good job.

Wrap Up!

There you go. We looked into the different types of polls, their importance, purposes, and examples. You must have understood by now that they are valuable tools for market research, tracking customer satisfaction, or predicting election outcomes.

By understanding their purpose and employing sound methodologies, you can use them to make informed decisions!

However, it is important to have the backing of an advanced online poll maker. Don’t worry. You have SurveySparrow for that.

Ditch the boring polls! Try a chatty one instead!


1. What is the difference between a poll and a survey?

  • Length: Polls mainly ask or focus on one question, and surveys ask many.
  • Depth of Information: Polls give quick answers, and surveys provide lots of details.
  • Question Types: Polls have simple questions, while surveys have different kinds.
  • Application: Polls are for easy answers, and surveys are for more detailed feedback.

2. Are online polls accurate?

Was this a doubt you had? Well, that’s common. The accuracy depends on various factors. This includes the quality of the sample, the methodology used, and the representativeness of the respondents.

Kate Williams

Content Marketer at SurveySparrow

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