Government » American Politics of Public Opinion » How Is Public Opinion Measured?

How Is Public Opinion Measured?

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Explain how information about public opinion is gathered
  • Identify common ways to measure and quantify public opinion
  • Analyze polls to determine whether they accurately measure a population’s opinions

Polling has changed over the years. The first opinion poll was taken in 1824; it asked voters how they voted as they left their polling places. Informal polls are called straw polls, and they informally collect opinions of a non-random population or group. Newspapers and social media continue the tradition of unofficial polls, mainly because interested readers want to know how elections will end. Facebook and online newspapers often offer informal, pop-up quizzes that ask a single question about politics or an event. The poll is not meant to be formal, but it provides a general idea of what the readership thinks.

Modern public opinion polling is relatively new, only eighty years old. These polls are far more sophisticated than straw polls and are carefully designed to probe what we think, want, and value. The information they gather may be relayed to politicians or newspapers, and is analyzed by statisticians and social scientists. As the media and politicians pay more attention to the polls, an increasing number are put in the field every week.

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