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Assessing and Interpreting Public Opinion

Assessing and Interpreting Public Opinion

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Assessing and Interpreting Public Opinion

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  1. Assessing and Interpreting Public Opinion

  2. Important Terms • Population • Sample • Bias/Error • Sampling Error • Coverage Error • Non-Response • Response Bias • Measurement Error

  3. Important Terms • Population • Sample • Bias/Error • Sampling Error • Coverage Error • Non-Response • Response Bias • Measurement Error

  4. Important Terms • Population • Sample • Error/Bias • Sampling Error • Coverage Error • Non-Response • Response Bias • Measurement Error

  5. Public Opinion on Abortion Question # 1 • Which of these statements comes closest to your opinion? Abortion is the same thing as murdering a child, or abortion is not murder because a fetus isn’t really a person. • Murder 55% • Not murder 35 • Don’t know, not ascertained 10

  6. Public Opinion on Abortion Question # 2 • Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Abortion sometimes is the best course in a bad situation. • Agree 66% • Disagree 26 • Don’t know, not ascertained 8

  7. Public Opinion on Abortion Question # 3: • What do you think about abortion? Should it be legal as it is now, legal only in such cases as saving the life of the mother, rape, or incest, or should it not be permitted at all? • Legal as is now 40% • Legal only to save mother, rape, incest 40 • Not permitted 16 • Don’t know, no answer 4

  8. Literary Digest Poll for 1936 • 1928 & 1932 polls had been successful • 1936 contest seemed competitive

  9. Literary Digest Poll for 1936 • 44 Million potential voters • 10 Million ballots distributed • 2.4 Million returned • Estimated election results: • FDR 43% • Alf Landon 57%

  10. Literary Digest Poll for 1936 • Real election results: • FDR 62% • Landon 38%

  11. 1936 Election Outcome: Correctly Predicted by Gallup • Afterward Gallup dominated polling

  12. Gallup Poll of 1948 • quota sampling • Prediction: Truman 44.5% (lose) • Real election results: Truman 49.9 (win)

  13. Measurement Error: Question Wording Holocaust Survey Mishap Roper Organization (1992): Does it seem possible or does it seem impossible to you that the Nazi extermination of the Jews never happened? • (65%) Impossible it never happened • (12%) Don't know • (22%) Possible it never happened • Confusing question

  14. Question Wording (March 1994) – Gallup Organization Does it seem possible to you that the Nazi extermination of the Jews never happened or do you feel certain that it happened? • (91%) Certain it happened • (8%) Don't know • (1%) Possible it never happened

  15. Question Wording • Leading questions • Double-barreled questions • Push polls

  16. Measurement Error: Respondent Effects • Memory • Ignorance • Social desirability

  17. Measurement Error:Respondent Effects

  18. Measurement Error:Question Wording (Framing) Would you favor or oppose federal assistance to industries in economic trouble? Would you favor or oppose a federal "bailout" of industries in economic trouble?

  19. Measurement Error:Question Wording (Framing) Would you favor or oppose cutting federal aid to the needy in order to cut federal spending? Would you favor or oppose cutting welfare programs in order to cut federal spending?

  20. Opinion is Ill-Informed Governmental Structure •39% did not know Republicans took over the U.S. House in 1994 •Only 26% knew a U.S. Senator served for 6 years •Only half knew the Republicans were more conservative than the Democrats •Only half knew SCOTUS has last say on whether a law is constitutional •Only 6% could name Rehnquist as the Chief Justice •Only 34% could name Dole as the Senate Majority Leader •Only 53% could name Gingrich as the House Speaker •Only 60% could name Gore as the Vice President Social Conditions •59% thought elderly poverty had increased over 20 years; it had dropped sharply •91% thought violent crime had increased from 1976-1996; it had dropped significantly •69% thought the budget deficit had increased from 1993-1996 despite negotiated decreases Government Policies •58% thought we spent more on Foreign Aid than Medicare •32% thought government policy had made this situation worse, despite large handouts

  21. Use of Polls Rachel Maddow (and others): 72% of Foxnews viewers oppose the Civil Rights Act Is this an accurate depiction?

  22. Actual Question

  23. Actual Question

  24. Civil Rights Act (1964) Title I: Equal Application of Voter Registration Standards Title II: No discrimination in “public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce” Title III: Sub-National Governments cannot ban access to public facilities based on race, gender, religion, ethnicity Title IV: Attorney General can sue to enforce desegregation Title V: Expanded powers of Civil Rights Commission Title VI: No discrimination by government agencies that receive federal funding

  25. Use of Polls • Do you support the Civil Rights Act of 1964? • Yes: 28% • No: 72% Would the conclusion “72% of Foxnews viewers oppose Civil Rights Act” be accurate?

  26. Consider this… • A national survey: • 52% favor Obama • 48% favor McCain • +/- 3% margin of error

  27. The Leader is… Obama could be supported by as low as 49% McCain could be favored by as high as 51% Does it makes sense to use a national opinion poll to predict winners?