Public Opinion Polls and Their Use in the United States

Essay by GRabney March 2003

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Public Opinion Polls

In today's society, public opinion polls are used to defend and argue against almost every imaginable issue. They are used to determine who is the leading candidate in elections, if the people support those they do elect, if movies, television and other media products are any good, or at least desirable and they determine what kind of products we as consumers want to purchase. The only problem with these polls, is that they don't always express the public's true opinion.

Therefore, the question that needs to be asked is whether or not public opinion is actually "public" and if it is, just how reflective of the general public is it. In order to answer this question, we need to understand the general nature of polling, who is doing it and why they are doing it, and how we can determine if there is any hidden agenda behind the polling.

Before we can even discuss public opinion, it is important to define some of the terms we use. Public for instance, can refer to either a private individual or family, or it can refer to the entire population as a whole. And opinions can be either rationally grounded thoughts on a particular subject, or they can be prejudiced and emotional beliefs . While the difference suggested by these definitions might seem negligible, they are important to understand.

More than any other factor, a poll's methodology is the key to the poll's outcome. Who is being polled, why they are being polled and how the questions are being asked are in integral to the outcome of the poll.

Throughout history, one of the basic uses of polls hasn't been to determine what public opinion is, but to influence public opinion. It is part of human nature to want to...