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Measurement of Public Opinion

The leaders of a group or a nation cannot lead wisely unless they know which way the people are willing to be led. The public opinion poll is a recent invention for finding out what people are thinking. A poll is simple in
concept but difficult to carry out because, as is shown above, an opinion is a rather complicated phenomenon. The pollsters prepare a set of questions on an issue, seeking to phrase the questions in such a way that the wording. does not prejudice the informant’s answer. Then these questions are offered to a smaII number of people (from a few hundred to a few thousand) so that each group or class in the total population is represented in the sample in its correct proportion. If all these preliminary arrangements are made without serious error, opinion is measured quite accurately. The Gallup Poll, for example, has predicted the vote on recent elections with an average error of less than 2 percent of the’ total population vote. But there are many pitfalls in public opinion polling which a pollster must guard against in trying to attain this level of accuracy. One of the greatest is the tendency of people to state firm opinions on issues which they know  nothing about, have not thought about, and really have no opinion upon. A sample of Hamilton County, Ohio, citizens were asked the question, “Some
people say that the 1975 Public Affairs .Act should be repealed. Qo you agree or disagree with this idea?” One-third of the people stated a .firm opinion, which is remarkable, since there was no “1975 Public Affairs Act” [Cory, 19791. The accuracy of public option polls is diluted by such “pseudo-opinions.” This error can be reduced by “filter” questions, such as, “Have you heard much about  [Bishop  198OJ. Other pitfalls surround the wording of questions, the selection of the sample, and the weighing or interpreting of responses parent, 1950; Phillips, 1966; Hennessy, 1970; Inquisition and Heidelberg, 1977]. Despite their limitations, polls are so important today that a new journal, Public Opinion,
devoted entirely to presenting and commenting
upon opinion polls, made its debut
in 1978

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