How Does a Straw Vote Differ From a Scientific Poll?

A straw poll denotes an unofficial poll taken to gauge general trends and opinions on an issue, whereas a scientific poll uses sampling controls, data collection and analysis to determine a statistical representation of a population. Perhaps the most prominent straw poll in America is the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa, a precursor to the presidential-selection process in the United States.

Straw polls are targeted to a specific audience. The Ames Straw Poll, in particular, draws Republican voters who donate money to the Iowa Republican Party. Candidates who want to earn votes from these voters pay tens of thousands of dollars for prominent placement at the Iowa State Fair. In 2011, nine GOP candidates vied for the poll's top spot. Straw polls for elections do not carry the same weight as official polls during actual elections.

Scientific polls, such as those done by Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, use much more scientific data. Each poll takes a random sample of 1,000 to 1,200 people, which produces a margin of error around 3 percent. Quinnipiac interviews people over the phone, including cellphones, for five to six days before tabulating results. The university takes samples based on an area's demographics: if one state is 49 percent male, 49 percent of the people called are males. The Hartford Business Journal states Quinnipiac polls are known for their accuracy, going back to elections in 1998.