How do you know if a poll is right?

People watch the debate between U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as they are seen on television screens at the Electric Avenue electronics store on October 16, 2012 in Miami, Fla.

Each week, Gallup's editor-in-chief Frank Newport joins us to discuss how people are feeling about the news by looking at what Gallup's polls have uncovered from our collective subconscious.  But in the past week, Gallup's polls themselves have been in the news.

Nate Silver, who runs the election forecasting site FiveThirtyEight Blog, published a critique over the weekend of Gallup's polling. He questioned the size of the swings in opinion Gallup sometimes measures.

"Apart from Gallup's final poll not having been especially accurate in recent years," Silver wrote, "it has often been a wild ride to get there. Their polls, for whatever reason, have often found implausibly large swings in the race."

Newport disputes Silver's accusations of inaccuracy.

"If we didn't have swings, we wouldn't track," says Newport. "We've gone to a seven-day rolling average now in part to kind of iron out some of those short-term variations. But trust me, this is the sixth election I've been involved in, and I just think there are ups and downs...particularly in the last month of an election."

The beauty of polling, though, is after the election there's a winner and a loser, and you either called it right -- or you didn't.

About the author

Frank Newport, Ph.D., is the editor-in-chief at Gallup and appears regularly on Marketplace.

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