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Polls and Public Opinion Com 359 – Public Affairs Reporting Fall 2005 • Purdue University How are polls used? As a tool for the government or an organization to determine public opinion As a source of information for individuals Is the economy good or bad? Is the war in Iraq going well, or not? Why are polls important? They are used as a decision-making instrument that allow people to: Compare their views with those of others Evaluate what’s going on in the world Make decisions that may affect their business and personal lives How do polls vary? Scientific polling Attention to sampling procedures Relies on random sample Careful attention to survey design Particularly question wording Non-scientific Self-selection Only people with some interest in the issue respond Think Cosmopolitan survey or the J&C’s online poll Non-random sample Going door-to-door at 2 p.m. on a week day Types of Polls Commissioned Goal is to assess opinion on a particular topic Response to a perceived need for accurate information Sometimes tied to decision-making Often expensive, sometimes extensive Goals are to be scientific and objective Examples: Local survey; Child Care Media example: Bush support slips Types of Polls Pseudo Voluntary participation Sometimes people even pay to do so American Idol Mass-mailed postcards, polls in magazines or online May contain loaded questions that steer responses Examples: Message board Types of Polls Push An effort to push opinion from one viewpoint to another Generally a telephone poll undertaken near end of election Seems like a real poll, but questions are posed in way that provides negative information about an opposing candidate Do you value safer streets in our community? Are you opposed to drunken driving in our community? How do you feel about the fact that candidate X was arrested for DUI five years ago? Reporting on Polls What you need to know: Who sponsored the survey? When was it conducted (anything happen since then?)? What population was sampled? How big is the sample? Is it representative? How were responses collected? Surveys, personal interviews, person-on-the-street, self- selection Scientific surveys generally rely on random sampling How were questions worded? Margin of error Reporting on Polls Tip: A legitimate survey will often come along with information that tells you: More about the polling organization; More about the sponsor organization; More about the survey, including question wording and the complete data set. Example: PIPA Before reporting a poll story… Did you: Do enough backgrounding? Did you seek out similar, previous studies, polls on same subject for perspective? Talk to experts who could interpret results, not just the poll/study conductor? Is it free of technical jargon, are terms defined? Not overstate significance? A big complaint of researchers!
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