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The AJC’s November 2019 poll: How — and why — we conducted it

The presidential race is a year away, but the battle for Georgia has been underway for at least that long.

There has been endless speculation about the state’s competitiveness in the 2020 election and what voters care about, but little data to flesh out the picture.

This poll is intended to provide a snapshot of how Georgia voters feel one year out about the top candidates and issues and their view of how things are going in the country and in the state. It’s not a prediction of who will win the Democratic primary or the November election. It’s simply a baseline picture of where things stand right now. We plan to conduct several polls in 2020, including a poll of Democratic voters closer to Georgia’s March 24 primary.

It’s important to note that polling is just a small part of how The Atlanta Journal-Constitution covers elections. We have been writing about major issues such as voting rightshealth care, and the state’s changing demographics, as well as covering how candidates are reaching out to Georgia voters. We investigate the records of Georgia candidates and explain major changes such as the state’s transition to a new voting system.

Polling is not perfect, but it remains the most effective tool available for measuring public opinion. We know you may have many questions about our polls, so we provide detailed explanations of how our polls are conducted so you can evaluate them for yourself.

» Interactive: See poll results

» Related: Trump faces tough re-election fight in Georgia

» Related: Georgians support impeachment inquiry, split on Trump ouster

» PDF: Complete poll crosstabs

Here are some common questions about our polls and their answers:

Who conducted the poll: The poll was conducted for the AJC by the School of Public and International Affairs Survey Research Center at the University of Georgia. Students made the calls under the direction of M.V. “Trey” Hood III, the director of the center and a professor of political science. UGA began polling for the AJC in 2018. An archive of our polls can be found at https://www.ajc.com/news/georgia-polls/.

Who selected the questions? AJC editors and reporters chose the questions based on current issues in the news and questions we have about what Georgia voters care about. Some questions are the same from poll to poll. Every poll also asks a series of standard demographic questions.

Whom did we talk to? 1028 registered voters from across the state, from Oct. 30 to Nov. 8. The numbers were randomly drawn from a voter registration list obtained through the sampling vendor L2. The company maintains a database constructed from the state voter registration lists. Through commercial sources, phone numbers have been added to the individual records (registrants) that make up these lists. 70% of the calls were made to cellphone numbers; 30% to landlines.

What is weighting and how do you do it?

Some adjustments are made to the total population of people surveyed to accurately reflect the demographics of the state. This poll was weighted for race, age and sex. UGA is studying whether to weigh future results for education as well and will likely begin doing so with polls conducted in 2020. This is an issue because not doing so has been identified as a reason some state polls underestimated support for Donald Trump in 2016. Dr. Hood at UGA notes that our 2018 poll of the governor’s race did not weight for education and came very close to the final election result. Nevertheless, most polling experts now recommend the practice and he is investigating updating his methods to address the issue. 

What is the “margin of error” for the poll and what exactly does that mean?

No matter how carefully a poll is conducted, there will always be some measure of uncertainty when you survey a small portion of a larger population, such as the state of Georgia. The margin of error is the measure of the uncertainty in the sample. The margin of error that we report accounts for these sources of uncertainty. For example, with a margin of error of 4 percentage points, a candidate polling at 50% could have support of anywhere between 46% and 54%, with a 95% level of confidence. That means that if we drew 100 different samples using the same methodology, then no more than five times out of 100 should chance variations in the sample cause the results to vary by more than 4 percentage points from the answers that would be obtained if all Georgians were polled.

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Susan Potter is the senior editor for state government and politics.

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