Another Day, Another Poll: Trends in Media Coverage of Polls/Surveys in the Election Realm and in the Non-Election Realm
Zuckerbraun, S. M. (2008, May). Another Day, Another Poll: Trends in Media Coverage of Polls/Surveys in the Election Realm and in the Non-Election Realm. Presented at AAPOR 2008, New Orleans, LA.
The monitoring of public opinion plays an important role in accountability of elected officials in a democracy (Jacob and Shapiro, 1995). However, the high volume of poll reports, quasi-scientific surveys, and criticism of both in the media may have troubling consequences. There are structural reasons within the news organizations (Rosensteil, 1995) and within election campaigns (Jacobs and Shapiro, 1995) for heavy reporting and commissioning of polls. There is also evidence that this steady diet of poll reports increased survey refusals on the 2004 National Annenberg Election Survey (Stroud and Kenski, 2007). With such media saturation it is not surprising that some should feel negatively toward surveys and refuse to take part in them, and this is likely part of the puzzle of the declining response rates that have troubled our industry over the past few decades. My research takes initial steps to explore a distinction between polls in the election and politics realm and surveys for other research purposes, I examine the number of stories mentioning “poll” or “survey” in the New York Times, the Chicago Sun-Times and the NBC Nightly News in three periods: July – October 1991, 1999, and 2007. While it would be unfeasible to sample all media sources from which people receive news, which itself is evolving, I chose these outlets for their combined widespread audiences and mix of types. I chose these time periods because they span seasons and pre-date a presidential election by 13 months. I code each mention in terms of context (positive, negative, neutral) and realm. After quantifying these trends I put forth a conceptual framework that may explain how common exposure to surveys in the electoral realm shapes how respondents perceive and react to non-political survey research. This may help practitioners to better present the benefits of surveys to the public.