Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

THE EDITOR'S PAGE: A Moving Target

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

THE EDITOR'S PAGE: A Moving Target

Article excerpt

MORE THAN half a century ago, George Gallup, Sr., pioneered what came to be known as "scientific polling," an effort to capture public opinion in a way that was both accurate and reliable. We all know the size and influence of the industry that grew out of his work.

But, like all sciences, the science of surveying the mind of the public was not exact. Indeed, the popular locution "exact science" describes something that has never -- and never will -- exist. All science depends on some sort of measurement, and all measurement is by its nature inexact. Instruments have built-in limitations, and seeking ever more accurate measurements on ever finer scales leads to continual refinements of a scientist's data. In the science of public opinion surveying, even the greenest reporter is trained to ask about the "margin of error," and no editor will run a story about a poll without such a figure.

But in the area of polling, as in most of social science, matters are further complicated by the fact that pollsters seek to measure a moving target. Public opinion can be sampled at any given moment, plus or minus a certain margin or error, but over time -- sometimes even rather brief intervals -- the public mind moves on. And that is one of the primary reasons that we are introducing in this issue a new column titled "Pulse of the Public."

Written by Lowell Rose, Phi Delta Kappa's executive director emeritus and polling coordinator, and by Alec Gallup, co-chairman of the Gallup Organization -- the same team that brings you the annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup polls that have appeared in the Kappan each fall for more than three decades -- "Pulse of the Public" will provide an opportunity to explore the findings of the annual PDK/Gallup poll in more detail. …

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