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Public Opinion POLS 21: The American Political System “One should respect public opinion insofar as is necessary to avoid starvation and keep out of prison,

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Presentation on theme: "Public Opinion POLS 21: The American Political System “One should respect public opinion insofar as is necessary to avoid starvation and keep out of prison,"— Presentation transcript:

1 Public Opinion POLS 21: The American Political System “One should respect public opinion insofar as is necessary to avoid starvation and keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny.” — Bertrand Russell

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3 Linkage Institutions PeopleGovernment Public Opinion Elections Political Parties Interest Groups News Media

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5 Judging the Quality of a Public Opinion Poll Who was polled? Who was polled? When were they polled? When were they polled? How many people were interviewed for the survey? How many people were interviewed for the survey? How were those respondents chosen? How were those respondents chosen? What was the response rate? What was the response rate? What is the margin of error? What is the margin of error? What questions were asked? What questions were asked? Who sponsored the poll, and for what purpose? Who sponsored the poll, and for what purpose?

6 1. Who was polled? McCainObama National adults 48% 48% 46% 46% Registered voters 5046 Likely voters 5444 Source: The Gallup Organization, September 5-7, 2008.

7 1. Who was polled? ObamaRomney Registered voters 5044 Likely voters 4948 Source: The Gallup Organization, September 7-9, 2012.

8 2012 General Election

9 1. Who was polled? What was the poll’s target population? All Americans? Registered voters? Likely voters? These distinctions make a big difference! CBS News CNN/USA Today/Gallup Zogby International Fox News August August August August Lieberman Gephardt Dean Kerry The Zogby poll seems to show a Dean surge, but their target population was different from the rest. They interviewed “likely” Democratic primary voters. All of the others interviewed registered voters. Dean fared better among those who were following the campaign closely. But if that’s the case, it may be hard to differentiate between candidate recognition—driven by media attention—and candidate support.

10 Judging the Quality of a Public Opinion Poll Who was polled? Who was polled? When were they polled? When were they polled? How many people were interviewed for the survey? How many people were interviewed for the survey? How were those respondents chosen? How were those respondents chosen? What was the response rate? What was the response rate? What is the margin of error? What is the margin of error? What questions were asked? What questions were asked? Who sponsored the poll, and for what purpose? Who sponsored the poll, and for what purpose?

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12 2. When were they polled? Timing can be critical, as in the case of the Literacy Digest. By mailing out ballots in September, the poll could not detect important shifts that happened late in the campaign Timing can be critical, as in the case of the Literacy Digest. By mailing out ballots in September, the poll could not detect important shifts that happened late in the campaign. In 2000, most polls also underestimated Gore’s support. The race narrowed in the final weekend, just as news broke about George W. Bush’s conviction for drunk driving in Maine years before.

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14 Judging the Quality of a Public Opinion Poll Who was polled? Who was polled? When were they polled? When were they polled? How many people were interviewed for the survey? How many people were interviewed for the survey? How were those respondents chosen? How were those respondents chosen? What was the response rate? What was the response rate? What is the margin of error? What is the margin of error? What questions were asked? What questions were asked? Who sponsored the poll, and for what purpose? Who sponsored the poll, and for what purpose?

15 3. How many people were interviewed for the survey? Today, public opinion polls are almost always based on samples. There are times, of course, when we do count everyone (such as in the federal census every ten years), but sampling is less expensive, more convenient, and if done properly, very accurate. How many people should be interviewed? 1,000 – 1,500 respondents is typical.

16 If we draw RANDOM, repeated samples out of the same population, those samples will distribute themselves in a normal (bell-shaped) curve around the average of all possible samples.

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18 4. How were those respondents chosen? Respondents in a poll should always be selected RANDOMLY. How? Should we use voter registration lists, telephone directories, or driver’s license lists? No! None of those lists are complete. Today, most pollsters use some variant of random-digit dialing to contact respondents by telephone which ideally, which avoids the bias of unlisted telephone numbers.

19 Top 25 Most Evil People of the Millennium 1.Adolf Hitler 2.Bill Clinton (write in) 3.Josef Stalin 4.Pol Pot 5.Dr. Josef Mengele 6.Hillary Clinton (write in) 7.Saddam Hussein 8.Adolf Eichmann 9.Charles Manson 10.Idi Amin 11.Genghis Khan 12.Jeffrey Dahmer 13.Benito Mussolini 14.Ayatollah Khomeini 15.Ted Bundy 16.John Wayne Gacy 17.Ivan the Terrible 18.Fidel Castro 19.Jim Jones 20.Vlad the Impaler

20 Judging the Quality of a Public Opinion Poll Who was polled? Who was polled? When were they polled? When were they polled? How many people were interviewed for the survey? How many people were interviewed for the survey? How were those respondents chosen? How were those respondents chosen? What was the response rate? What was the response rate? What is the margin of error? What is the margin of error? What questions were asked? What questions were asked? Who sponsored the poll, and for what purpose? Who sponsored the poll, and for what purpose?

21 5. What was the response rate? While we are interested in who participated in a poll, we also need to know who did not. What was the response rate? It should be at least 2/3 of those who were contacted. If it is significantly less there is a risk that those who declined below to some significant subgroup whose attitudes and opinions are underrepresented in the results. This is a vexing problem for pollsters today. Caller ID and answering machines make it harder to contact people at home because they can screen out unwanted calls. Federal law also prohibits pollsters from calling people on cellular phones without permission because the recipients of the calls are obliged to share the cost. In the 2002 governor’s race in Vermont, all of the polls leading up to Election Day showed Doug Racine ahead of Jim Douglas by a comfortable margin. But he lost… Why? Because Republicans were less likely to be at home, and less likely to answer the phone when they were.

22 Judging the Quality of a Public Opinion Poll Who was polled? Who was polled? When were they polled? When were they polled? How many people were interviewed for the survey? How many people were interviewed for the survey? How were those respondents chosen? How were those respondents chosen? What was the response rate? What was the response rate? What is the margin of error? What is the margin of error? What questions were asked? What questions were asked? Who sponsored the poll, and for what purpose? Who sponsored the poll, and for what purpose?

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24 The sampling error—or margin of error— in polls is calculated using the following basic formula, where n is the size of the sample. Margin of error = 1 / √n As this formula shows, a larger sample will reduce the margin of error. When pollsters decide what size sample to use, however, they often balance the margin of error against the added expense of a larger sample. As the table shows, doubling the sample size after 1,000 respondents does not add much more accuracy to the poll. That is why so many political polls are based on samples of around 1,000 people. 6. What is the margin of error?

25 Judging the Quality of a Public Opinion Poll Who was polled? Who was polled? When were they polled? When were they polled? How many people were interviewed for the survey? How many people were interviewed for the survey? How were those respondents chosen? How were those respondents chosen? What was the response rate? What was the response rate? What is the margin of error? What is the margin of error? What questions were asked? What questions were asked? Who sponsored the poll, and for what purpose? Who sponsored the poll, and for what purpose?

26 7. What questions were asked? Sometimes pollsters ask questions on topics about which people have no reasonable basis for judgment. Sometimes pollsters ask questions on topics about which people have no reasonable basis for judgment. Questions can be imprecise. Questions can be imprecise. Questions can be biased in many, many ways. Questions can be biased in many, many ways.

27 Judging the Quality of a Public Opinion Poll Who was polled? Who was polled? When were they polled? When were they polled? How many people were interviewed for the survey? How many people were interviewed for the survey? How were those respondents chosen? How were those respondents chosen? What was the response rate? What was the response rate? What is the margin of error? What is the margin of error? What questions were asked? What questions were asked? Who sponsored the poll, and for what purpose? Who sponsored the poll, and for what purpose?

28 “Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain for president if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?” An Infamous Push Poll The McCain family in 1999

29 8. Who sponsored the poll and why? Who sponsored the poll matters. Biased and misleading questions administered by unsuspecting respondents by groups with a vest interest in the outcome can so alter results that it says more in the end about the mechanics of the poll itself than the subject it attends. Today, push polls are used with alarming frequency, where the objective is not to measure public opinion, but rather to warp it.

30 Push Polls Morales supports affirmative action. Morales supports affirmative action. Morales supports gun control. Morales supports gun control. Conservative political groups rate Morales as a liberal Democrat Conservative political groups rate Morales as a liberal Democrat Morales has said that young gang members don’t need harsh treatment and prison, but that they need hire recreational facilities, drug counseling and summer jobs. Morales has said that young gang members don’t need harsh treatment and prison, but that they need hire recreational facilities, drug counseling and summer jobs. Victims Rights activists say Morales sold out crime victims when he settled a prisoner’s lawsuit without even taking the case to court. Victims Rights activists say Morales sold out crime victims when he settled a prisoner’s lawsuit without even taking the case to court. As you know, elected officials are held to high standards in public life. Here are some reasons people are giving to vote against Dan Morales for Attorney General. Please tell me if each statement makes you much more likely to vote against Dan Morales, somewhat more likely to vote against Dan Morales or if it make no difference at all? Here’s the first… (RANDOMIZE) Now that you’ve had a chance learn more about Dan Morales’ record, do you think Dan Morales has performed his job as Attorney General well enough to deserve reelection, or do you think it’s time to give a new person a chance to do a better job?

31 Changing the subject to something else all together, I’d like to ask you some questions about lawsuits in Texas. 39. There has been some public debate about lawsuits lately. First, do you think there are too many frivolous lawsuits being filed today, or not? Next I’d like to ask you about some specific situations where people engage in risky activities but still consider suing if they get hurt. Here’s the first Do you think people who drink alcohol and get drunk and injure themselves or others should be allowed to sue the alcohol industry and claim money damages for medical costs they say were caused by their drinking? 41. Do you think people who eat meat or dairy products like cheese and butter and later develop heart disease should be allowed to sue meat companies or dairy farmers to claim money damages for their medical costs? 42. Do you think people who smoke cigarettes should be allowed to sue tobacco companies and claim money damages for medical costs they say were caused by their smoking? 43. Do you think people who use a gun or a knife and injure themselves should be allowed to sue the gun or knife manufacturer and claim money damages for medical costs, even if the product was not faulty?

32 I’d like to read you two different opinions on the cigarette lawsuit, and please tell me which comes closest to your own... (ROTATE) Push Polls I believe that people should be able to choose what’s the best for them. While I might not smoke, if they choose to, that’s their decision. I believe that if something is not good for people, they should not do it. I think the government should act to stop people from smoking.

33 AAPOR Standards for Minimal Disclosure Who sponsored the survey and who conducted it Who sponsored the survey and who conducted it The exact wording of the questions asked The exact wording of the questions asked A definition of the population under study A definition of the population under study A description of the sample design A description of the sample design Sample sizes and response rates Sample sizes and response rates A discussion of the precision of the findings, including estimates of sampling error A discussion of the precision of the findings, including estimates of sampling error Method, location, and dates of data collection Method, location, and dates of data collection


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