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Public Opinion Polling. How Public Opinion is Measured (and Mismeasured). Rise of Polling Companies. Originated with market research Gallup dissertation Early Political Polling Election forecasting Literary Digest polls

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Public opinion polling

Public Opinion Polling

How Public Opinion is Measured (and Mismeasured)


Rise of polling companies
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)


Rise of the gallup poll
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


Polling techniques
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)


Future polling techniques
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


Use of polls in politics dewey defeats truman
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


Use of polls in politics confidence in polling restored
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


Use of polls in politics
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


Use of polls in politics1
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


Use of polls in politics2
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


Use of polls in politics3
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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