The Two W's of Journalism: The Why and What of Public Affairs Reporting

By Davis Merritt; Maxwell McCombs | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
14

Polling—
Use and Abuse

By the middle of the last century, driven by a thirst for information and supported by the development of steadily more sophisticated computers and the universality of telephone service, researchers could measure public opinion quickly and relatively cheaply. Probability sampling was the key tool that, properly combined with computers and random-digit telephone dialing, allowed researchers to say with considerable confidence that a specific percentage of all Americans held certain beliefs or acted a certain way based on responses from only a tiny fraction of them. For instance, a properly drawn sample of 1,500 people would reflect, within a margin of error of 2.5 percent, the opinion of all 280 million Americans 95 percent of the time. In other words, it became possible to say something like this: “We know with 95 percent probability that 76 percent of Americans, if each was asked, would say they believe in ghosts. ”

Survey information is immensely useful in many fields. Government officials can factor public opinion data into policy decisions. Candidates seeking office can address certain issues in certain ways likely to help their candidacies and discover where their limited campaign time will yield the most votes. Advertising agencies can sniff out public sentiment and measure the effectiveness of advertising campaigns. Manufacturers can test the acceptance of their products and learn how to change them to meet public desires and needs. Institutions can use the information to plan and execute their missions. The possible applications of such aggregated information are endless, as are the possibilities of misuse and abuse.

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The Two W's of Journalism: The Why and What of Public Affairs Reporting
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents vii
  • About the Authors ix
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction xiii
  • Part I *
  • Chapter 1 - The Why 3
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading *
  • Chapter 2 - First Things First: Why We Have a First Amendment 9
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading *
  • Chapter 3 - Conflicting Visions of Democracy 19
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading *
  • Chapter 4 - The Evolution of Journalism 31
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading 39
  • Chapter 5 - What the Public Needs to Know 40
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading *
  • Chapter 6 - Three Publics for the News 50
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading *
  • Chapter 7 - Technology and the New Millennium 60
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading *
  • Part II *
  • Chapter 8 - The What 69
  • Chapter 9 - Sampling the News 72
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading *
  • Chapter 10 - Framing Stories and Positioning Citizens 80
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading *
  • Chapter 11 - Positioning Ourselves as Journalists 91
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading *
  • Chapter 12 - Deliberation 106
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading *
  • Chapter 13 - Elections 119
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading *
  • Chapter 14 - Polling—use and Abuse 132
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading *
  • Chapter 15 - A Map of the Future 146
  • Author Index 151
  • Subject Index 155
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