Measuring Public Opinion in an Individualistic World
By Chris Forrest, Partner, The Nursery
The broad argument here is the challenge that a more individualistic society presents to the proper workings of representative democracy. Media events staged to put a particular case were becoming more common, and these media events had research at their core. Stephen argued that opinion research will become more important and, therefore, researchers should be alert to the dangers inherent in trying to measure “public opinion”.
There are now plenty of suspect polls doing the rounds, and the “research events” that Stephen predicted are now rampant. Producing a poll to generate a story is elementary PR and “slow news day” journalism.
Polls as research events are now understood. Joe Public has become much smarter at spotting probable bias and not taking the results too seriously. The polls themselves often encourage this by seeking to entertain more than inform. In the mid-1990s Michael Moore’s TV show pioneered a post-modern playfulness with dumb research event polls (“46% of Americans said they would rather be killed by a serial killer than by a mass murderer”).
There is now awareness that there are proper polls and dodgy “research event” polls. It’s easy to identify the extremes, but in the dangerous middle ground between preferences for trivial personal tastes and voting intentions there are still plenty of horror stories.
There is no simple way to spot the rogue poll but the name ...