Challenges To Measuring Public Opinion: The Insincere, The Social, And The Measurement Approach
Scholars often recognize public opinion as a valuable metric of the collective will to compare against decisions of political leaders, but the value of public opinion also lies in its ability to serve as a ‘collective mirror.’ Measuring public opinion provides us the ability to examine our collective attitudes and beliefs; assess whether they are blemished by misinformation; and examine whether our divisions are rooted in deep-seated principles or simply superficial efforts to maintain a partisan appearance. This image that is reflected back at us can have deep implications for the conclusions we draw and the subsequent actions that we take. However, that image of public opinion will never be completely accurate. Respondents motivations and considerations, our measurement strategy, as well as the broader social and political context will influence the beliefs and attitudes expressed in survey responses. This dissertation presents a series of studies that examine how each of these challenges can present themselves and impact our understanding of public opinion. Presented together these results serve as a reminder that researchers, policy-makers, and the public themselves need to exercise caution and make sure to keep these factors in mind when interpreting findings from surveys and polls.
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