Election Tips | Voting

Voting, Surveys, and Polls: What Are the Differences?

Do you know the differences between a survey, poll, and vote? While used interchangeably, each have distinct meanings that can change how you see them.
Alex Hay
Written by Alex Hay

When it comes to finding the right solution to meet their organizations' needs, many people struggle initially with using the best search terms to help them zero in on what they actually need. 

This is especially true when it comes to finding online voting solutions. Commonly, people use the terms 'surveys,' 'polls,' and 'voting' interchangeably. However, each of these terms have slight distinctions from one another that help defines a specific action or result taking place. 

To clear up some of the confusion and help steer you down the right path, we'll explain the differences between each of these terms and what that means for your search.

Voting

While surveys and polls are typically less formal methods of getting input or a consensus from a group, we define voting as a formal decision-making process that has specific rules and procedures in place to determine a clear outcome.

For example, if you were electing a new president for your organization, you wouldn't want to just poll your employees for their preferences--you'd want them to commit to an option for a concrete answer.

Online voting platforms have become increasingly popular over the past several years, primarily because of their quality and ease of use. Voters receive a link with login information to access their ballot, then submit their votes electronically for tabulation. This process is simpler both for accessing the ballot on the voter side and counting votes from the administrator side.

Some online voting platform providers will also provide additional services, such as third-party election administrators, promotions for the event, and ballot customizations.

Surveys and Polls

Sometimes, instead of taking a formal vote, groups will want to gauge the preferences of its members in order to make informed decisions. This is where a survey or poll may come in handy.

  • A survey allows you to ask multiple questions across a wider range of question types. You can ask for a comment, an email address, a name, an address, etc., as well as multiple-choice questions.

  • A poll allows you to ask one multiple choice question. Participants can choose from among answers that you predefine. You can restrict voters to select just one answer to your question or allow them to choose multiple answers.

The differences between each generally boil down to what information is being sought out. Do you need objective, general data points regarding an issue? A poll may help to quickly identify preferences within a group. Do you need subjective, detailed opinions? A survey may help you collect many individual perspectives and tells a broader story regarding the group’s preferences.

Additionally, many survey and polling platforms are free to use. However, this often comes at the cost of decreased security and people generally don’t take these results as seriously as they would a formal vote. These tools are best suited as an informal means of gauging general preferences within a group and are not recommended for making official decisions.

We hope this provides some clarity to a question that many people have been asking. For more information on voting technology and different voting methods, check out these links.

Originally published May 6, 2021, updated May 6, 2021

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