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Public Opinion Polling How Public Opinion is Measured (and Mismeasured)

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Presentation on theme: "Public Opinion Polling How Public Opinion is Measured (and Mismeasured)"— Presentation transcript:

1 Public Opinion Polling How Public Opinion is Measured (and Mismeasured)

2 Rise of Polling Companies Originated with market research –Gallup dissertation Early Political Polling –Election forecasting –Literary Digest polls Correctly predicted winner of presidential elections from 1916 to 1932 Conducted VERY large mail-in surveys (drawn from telephone and automobile ownership rolls)

3 Rise of the Gallup Poll 1936 Election –Literary Digest vs. Gallup Gallup predicted not only that he would get it right with a sample of approximately 1,500 respondents (as opposed to over 10 million), but that Literary Digest would get it wrong Gallup used quota sampling methods and face-to-face interviews

4 Polling Techniques Literary Digest to the Representative Sample –Mail-in surveys to face-to-face interviews –We can now get accurate public opinion data from as few as 1,500 respondents (under right conditions) Polling techniques have changed as technology has advanced –Face-to-face interviews to telephone surveys Telephone databases –Early telephone surveys to sophisticated telephone polling (automated systems)

5 Future Polling Techniques? Internet polling –Today, internet polling is very unscientific Self-Selection Bias –Impossible to get random sample of population –For that matter, any call-in TV poll is also unscientific and worthless –In order for internet polling to become a valid method for measuring public opinion, pollsters would need to find ways of generating a random sample of the population Particularly difficult given that internet users as a whole are a specific segment of electorate/citizenry

6 Use of Polls in Politics: Dewey Defeats Truman 1948 Election –Gallup predicted that Republican Thomas Dewey would defeat incumbent president Harry Truman –Gallup, Roper, Crossley stopped polling about a week before general election Still many undecided voters

7 Use of Polls in Politics: Confidence in Polling Restored Louis Harris –John Kennedy hired Harris to be his campaign pollster Humphrey was vulnerable in West Virginia and Wisconsin Harris was the first pollster to be employed by a president –Kennedy kept him on to gauge public approval ratings and policy preferences

8 Use of Polls in Politics Johnson –Used polling data to measure public support for his domestic agenda –Especially concentrated on public opinion late in his presidency, as he was extremely concerned with perception of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. –In 1966, Johnson’s nightly reading included summarized results of a series of questions relating to public support for the war. Nixon –In his first year in office, Nixon commissioned more private polls than Johnson commissioned during his entire presidency –Extensive polling during 1972 re-election campaign

9 Use of Polls in Politics Ford –Examined strategies for maneuvering out of the political hole left by the Watergate scandal Tried to gauge public opinion about the possibility of pardoning Nixon Carter – Felt that public opinion was so important that he gave his pollster an office in the White House The beginning of a much more common trend among recent presidents Hostage crisis at end of his presidency consumed much of his time and polling attention

10 Use of Polls in Politics Reagan –Met with his pollster almost monthly to monitor public support for the administration and its policies George H.W. Bush –Kept close tallies on public opinion and reportedly relied on poll results to shape his posture with respect to Iraq. Clinton –“Horserace presidency” –Made no secret about the role of pollsters in his White House, commissioning regular polls about every aspect of American political life (Stanley Greenburg and later from Dick Morris) –Morris – Clinton did not used polls to select his policies Used polls to determine which actions were winning the most support and to shape public messages

11 Use of Polls in Politics 2000 Election –Methods for polling today are extremely accurate –Enormous number of polling companies, even larger number of polls Large polling companies (Gallup, etc.) Polling alliances –On average, these polls were extremely accurate (missed by about one percentage point)

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