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Measuring public opinion

Discover the importance of measuring public opinion in a democracy and explore various methods, such as mass surveys, benchmark polls, entrance and exit polls, tracking polls, and focus groups. Learn how these techniques help politicians, interest groups, and the media understand and respond to the public's thoughts and preferences.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] In this video we're going to talk about measuring public opinion. And the first question to ask yourself is, why would we even want to measure public opinion? Well if we live in a democracy where a public has a huge influence on our government, well you wanna know what they think. And you could think about the major institutions in our democracy. You could think about people who are in office, and they when they're making a decision, they would love to know what the public actually thinks. One, they wanna act on behalf of the public, and if they wanna get reelected by the public, it might be in their interest to know what the public thinks. If you're in the midst of an election and you want to get elected, well you might wanna know what does the public think about you. You might wanna know what are your chances of winning the election. How are your competitors doing? Or maybe what position should you highlight? Or maybe which positions should you listen to the public on? Similarly if you're an interest group, where does the public sit on different things or how does their opinion change over time? And a lot of what the media does is help communicate to the people what is going on broadly in our society, and that includes what the people themselves are thinking. So now that we know that we want to measure public opinion, what are the typical ways of doing so? You have the idea of a mass survey. So this is a way of just asking a lot of people, you wanna randomly sample and say, what do you think about some position? What do you think about some social issue? What do you think about some law that is up for being passed? What do you think about some type of candidate? Now the next three kinds of polls we have listed here you could view as related in a lot of ways to mass surveys or even a more specialized type of mass survey. You have the idea of a benchmark poll, and this is where at the beginning of say a campaign, you see how people feel about a certain issue or a certain candidate and then all future polls you can compare to that benchmark. Entrance and exit polls, this is when people actually go to vote, when they're about to enter into the voting booth, you ask 'em hey how are you going to vote or right when they exit the voting booth, they ask you, how are did you vote. And people aren't obliged to tell exactly what they did, but this will give an indication of what is likely to be the outcome of that election. Related to both of these is the idea of a tracking poll. This is a situation where you might ask people at the beginning of some type of a campaign, it could be a campaign for a candidate, it could be a campaign for a proposition, where this time you see okay what percentage of people are in favor of something. So this would be the percentage in favor. And this is time. And then you periodically keep asking the same group of people how they feel about that candidate or that issue. And so you're going to be able to figure out how people's opinions about that candidate or issue change over time. You're going to be able to track that. And then a more I guess you could say focused way of understanding public opinion which might not be as representative of the population as a whole but allows you to get more maybe more nuanced then and more conversation than these other four methods would be a focus group. This is where you try to bring in a representative sample of five, 10, 15, 20 folks and have a discussion with them about what they care about and why they care about these things. So I will leave you there. In the next video, we'll talk about what makes for a robust measure of public opinion.