June 8, 2011
James Davenport

Reading and Misreading: How to Truly Understand Public Opinion

Recently, SoonerPoll.com began running a quarterly survey of likely voters in Oklahoma.� The purpose of this survey is to provide insight into public opinion on relevant issues facing our state.� While public opinion polls are often maligned as being �biased� for or against a particular cause, elected official, or issue, everyone seems interested in knowing what the public thinks.� In addition, those on both sides of any political issue do not hesitate to use public opinion polling when it favors their position.

Public opinion can and should be a useful tool for elected officials and policymakers when making decisions affecting the lives of our citizens.� However, a clear understanding of what public opinion is and what it means will be helpful to all.� First, and foremost, public opinion is a snapshot in time of what the public thinks about a given issue.� Public opinion is impacted by a variety of sources, and can change over time.

Because of this, public opinion should not be viewed as static, but rather as a fluid stream that will adapt to changing information, circumstances, and events.� Public opinion is very much tied to geography, history, and culture.� There is a reason the majority of Oklahomans and Texans view issues differently than the majority of New Yorkers or Californians.� Different historical experiences, different cultures, and even different populations all impact the results of public opinion surveys.

But even within a state, such differences are revealed.� This is why voting patterns and public opinion polls can see such varying results in areas like Tulsa, Oklahoma City, �Little Dixie�, and the state panhandle.� This also explains why certain legislators who push an agenda that is not in line with public opinion can still manage to get re-elected.� While they may be at odds with public opinion across the entire state, they are very much in tune with, and representative of, public opinion in their legislative districts.

Quite frankly, people get upset with public opinion polls when they reveal public sentiment to be at odds with their perspectives.� They accuse the poll of being �slanted� or �biased�.� If that case can�t be made, then they resort to calling their fellow citizens �ignorant� or �uninformed�.� The reality is that the most reputable public opinion research firms work very hard to ensure their questions are written as unbiased as possible.� They have an interest in knowing what the public really thinks about issues, not trying to manufacture public opinion that will be revealed false under subsequent scrutiny.

SoonerPoll.com strives to ensure its public opinion surveys are conducted in as unbiased and statistically valid manner as possible.� This is why we do not conduct polling for specific political candidates or causes.� We pride ourselves on being Oklahoma�s public opinion research firm.� This is why we maintain a high credibility with media outlets around our state.� We know the only real asset we have is our reputation.� We work hard to protect it and to provide the absolute best in public opinion research.

We hope you gain insight from our work and are able to better understand how the important issues facing our state today are viewed by your fellow citizens.� We strive to be open and transparent in our processes and provide opportunity for the public to comment (and even criticize) our work.� We believe this ensures the public the most accurate and useful information possible.

James Davenport is Shapard Research's Vice President of Client Relations and a Political Analyst for SoonerPoll.com


James Davenport
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James Davenport