PDF Opinion Polls and the Media: Reflecting and Shaping Public Opinion

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What are the primary forces that seek to manipulate, influence, and otherwise shape public opinion? How do these forces go about shaping opinion? What is the nature of their influence?

What are the effects of measuring public opinion through polls? What are the techniques pollsters employ? How might those techniques sometimes lead to errors in measurement or to outright changes in public opinion? What is the appropriate role for public opinion to play in a polity that values both democracy and republicanism?

In what ways do politicians govern for us? How can we make policy for ourselves? Norton and Company, Inc. All rights reserved. American Government, Core 12e. Chapters American Politics News. For option A, you may believe that President Obama gave a wonderful speech but not reconsider at least one item on his agenda. Similarly, for option B, you may agree that President Obama gave a good speech, but you may have changed your mind about his agenda.

There are many ways in which polls and surveys can be administered, including through face-to-face interviews, telephone interviews, mail questionnaires, and online questionnaires.

Opinion Polls and the Media

Each of these methods has pros and cons. Face-to-face interviews are advantageous for administering long, complicated surveys, yet they are costly and subjects may be reluctant to talk to a stranger about their opinions. Telephone interviews are relatively easy to administer, but getting a representative sample has become more difficult as many polling organizations rely on landline telephone directories to recruit respondents, and people increasingly are relying on cell phones.

Young people are not well represented in landline polls. Mail questionnaires are a low-cost method that allows subjects privacy when answering questions, which can yield more accurate results. However, mail surveys often suffer from low response rate, as people simply opt out because the questionnaire is self-administered. Online polls have become a more popular option in recent years as the majority of the public has access to the Internet. Studies indicate that online polls are no less reliable than other forms of polling.

They have the advantage of being cost-effective, and allowing respondents privacy when answering questions. Online polls also provide opportunities for innovation, such as getting reactions to video clips of campaign ads. The limitation of online polls is that it is more difficult to get a representative sample using the Internet than with some traditional methods, because not all of the public is online.

Also, online surveys are self-administered, and people can drop out before they are completed, especially if the questionnaire is lengthy. Exit polls Face-to-face interviews with voters taken as they leave the voting booth to determine their candidate preference in the election and their positions on issues. They are fielded in a small number of voting precincts with states with the goal of acquiring representative data.

They are used to predict the outcomes of elections and to determine the characteristics of voters who supported particular candidates. Exit poll data can reveal, for example, who female, Latino, Republican voters favored in an election campaign. Until , each news network had its own in-house exit polling operation. VNS released the exit poll data that prompted the networks to prematurely declare the results of the presidential election, and the organization subsequently was disbanded.

Exit poll data in the presidential election and midterm elections were provided to major television news organizations and the Associated Press by the National Election Exit Polls conducted by Edison Research. News organizations use exit polls to declare a winner, sometimes when few of the actual returns from the voting precincts have been recorded. This practice has raised concerns, especially since the major television networks all rely on exit poll data from the same source—the National Election Exit Poll.

While exit polls are often accurate, if the sample of voters is unrepresentative of the population, the survey questions are poorly written, or interviewers are not trained to properly administer the poll, the results can be wrong, as was the case in the presidential election. Some scholars allege that media reports of exit polls can depress election turnout. When the media declare the winner in a presidential election on the basis of exit polls before the voting booths have closed across the country, people who have not yet voted may decide not turn out.

Network television newscasts declared Ronald Reagan the winner of the presidential election on the basis of exit polls hours before the voting booths had closed on the West Coast. A controversy ensued around the allegation that West Coast voters were discouraged from casting a ballot because they felt their vote was irrelevant. The networks agreed voluntarily to refrain from declaring a winner in elections until after all the polls have closed nationwide—an agreement that has not always been followed.

A quick poll usually consists of one or two questions that are posted to a website, blog, discussion board, social media platform, or podcast.

But What Do the Polls Show? | Pew Research Center

Quick polls have become standard features of websites of news organizations, political leaders, issue advocacy groups, political parties, candidates, bloggers, and even average citizens. They can be distributed through website sidebars, e-mail links, Facebook postings, and Twitter feeds. There are many platforms available that make it easy for just about anyone to field a quick poll.

Quick polls also can be administered through robo-polling Administering automated polls by phone using a recorded voice to ask the question and requiring respondents to answer by pressing the touch pad on their telephone. Quick polls do not conform to the established protocols for conducting scientific polls, and they generally are not reliable indicators of public opinion.

They often use an unscientific convenience sample Respondents to unscientific polls who are self-selected. Most respondents to quick polls are self-selected, and they may have a strong interest in the topic. Often it is possible for people to register their views more than once, which can bias the outcome of the poll. Quick polls may generate many responses, but the results can be wildly inaccurate. In addition, quick poll questions can be designed in a way that elicits a particular response that is then used to promote a particular position.

Do you favor or oppose designating bike lanes in your city? Quick polls can be a fun way to generate interest in political affairs. People can express their views easily, and they often get immediate feedback about where they stand compared to others. The results of quick polls often are revealed in visually appealing graphics. Reporters and bloggers use the results of quick polls to generate story lines and supplement the text of their pieces. However, quick polls can be misused when the results are interpreted as if they truly reflect public opinion rather than the views of the people who chose to take them.

Quick polls provide snapshots of political opinion that are used by the media, interest groups, parties, and candidates. Despite their name, push polls are not legitimate public opinion polls. They are a form of advertising masquerading in the form of an opinion survey. No one collects or analyzes data from a push poll. However, push polls can influence vote choice in campaigns by incorporating negative attacks on a candidate into the questions asked or associating a candidate with a particular issue position which may or may not be accurate.

Push polls were used against Republican candidate John McCain during the presidential primary. Voters in Ohio received phone calls from Opinion Access Corporation asking if they would be more or less likely to vote for Barack Obama if they knew that he had voted to let convicted child sex offenders out early.

While these allegations were untrue or taken out of context, the information was spread to voters. Push polls have been outlawed in certain states and they have been condemned by the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers AAPOR , the organization that upholds standards for polling and survey research. There are a variety of ways of measuring public opinion aside from polls.

Tracking the Economic Slowdown

The different sides of an argument expressed in public debates or at a community meeting reflect public opinion. The positions taken in letters to the editor, blog and social media posts, and the comments in response to news stories and editorials are all indicators of public sentiment. The commentary that people post in response to news stories can provide a rich source of information about public opinion, especially when people take the issue seriously and are respectful when expressing their views.

This commentary also can be careless and vitriolic, as people resort to personal attacks or post quick reactions to complex issues. Focus groups Facilitators convene a small group of subjects to engage in a structured discussion about a topic. A facilitator asks questions of a group of between eight and twelve people who can engage in a conversation about the topic.

Focus groups not only are useful for gaining in-depth insights into what individuals think but also aid in understanding the group dynamics behind public opinion.


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Focus groups can reveal when people feel comfortable expressing their beliefs, when they will confront others about their views, when they will withdraw from a discussion, and when they are influenced by the opinions of others. David W.

How the Media Constructs Public Opinion

Stewart, Prem N. Shamdasani, and Dennis W. Rook, Focus Groups: Theory and Practice , 2nd ed. Focus groups have been used to allow college students to reveal their views about government and their role in a democratic polity. Talking with students in a group setting, researchers discovered that young people are more interested and engaged in politics than survey-based studies indicate, and that they are thinking creatively about ways to become involved, especially using social media. Nicholas V. Longo and Ross P. Focus groups are used extensively in election campaigns to determine what voters are thinking about and which candidates they prefer.

How public opinion surveys came to play a major role in policymaking and politics

Online news stories provide comment sections where people can discuss issues and events. These comments are an expression of public opinion. Public opinion polling dates back to the early days of the republic. In this environment, it is important to differentiate between quality polling data generated through established scientific methods and unreliable information produced by quick polls. The press depends on polls as a source of information for its stories, and polling organizations need the media to publicize their results.