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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)