Pub. date: 2009 | Online Pub. Date: December 16, 2009 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412972048 | Print ISBN: 9780761929574 | Online ISBN: 9781412972048| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Polls and Public Opinion
Peter V. Miller
Put simply, public opinion is “what the public thinks,” and a poll is a means for learning those views. But this definition masks substantial complexity. There is much debate about what the public is, what might constitute its thoughts, what polls actually measure, and what the import of expressed opinions may be. Consider some images: a crowd at a baseball game, protesters marching with signs and banners, authors of letters to a newspaper, strikers on a picket line, parents at a school board meeting, supporters at an election rally, citizens of a country, members of a special-interest organization (like the ACLU), commentators on a blog, a thousand adults interviewed for a Gallup Poll. In political and social psychologist Floyd Allport's (inelegant) language, these are “multi-individual situations” in which people may express themselves. But they differ in significant ways. The public is displayed variously as a disconnected assemblage—a “mass”—or a unified ...