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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
       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

       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
     What population was sampled?
          How big is the sample? Is it representative?
     How were responses collected?
          Surveys, personal interviews, person-on-the-street, self-
          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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