Election Polls, the News Media, and Democracy

Election Polls, the News Media, and Democracy

Election Polls, the News Media, and Democracy

Election Polls, the News Media, and Democracy

Synopsis

Is election polling, properly done, the media's single greatest contribution to democracy? The polling scholars and practitioners whose research is presented in this volume lend ample support to this controversial claim by the editors.

Excerpt

The use and importance of political polling in the United States has grown considerably in the last two decades of the twentieth century. Polls, especially those widely disseminated by the news media, are interesting to political elites and average citizens alike. They also appear to be drawing the ire of growing numbers of political partisans and others. For example, in 1998 and early 1999, many political conservatives criticized the public polls when they reported a solid majority support for keeping President Clinton in the White House. The source of much of the blame was some Republicans, who apparently were frustrated by the failing effort to remove Bill Clinton from his presidency because they thought these polls were playing a role in keeping him in office. Conservative Clinton critics just could not believe that these public polls, which were being reported in the media at least weekly, were accurate--and considerable rhetoric was aimed at trying to undermine their validity in the public's eye.

Criticism of the role of polls in a democracy--both thoughtful and not-- is not a recent phenomenon. However, as the use of polls has grown and they have become a more prominent feature in election news and other political coverage, the amount and tenor of the criticism that they are overused and harm democracy have increased considerably. What seems clear to us, as close observers of the way election polls are used in the United States, is that there is room for improvement in the reporting of polls and a great need for a better public understanding of the strengths and limitations of polls.

Within this evolving political climate, we have worked together for more than a decade to try to educate poll users and poll consumers about the methods of good (valid) polls and the ways that poll-based information can enhance democracy. We have done this through teaching at our respective universities and other speaking opportunities, research we have done together and separately, and our professional service, in particular with the American Association for Public Opinion Research. We are convinced that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about how polls can be used to help democratic processes and that unless corrected, this misunderstanding will grow and further erode the potential of polls to enhance the functioning of our democracy.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.