An opinion poll is usually a representation of how a group of participants
respond to a particular real-life or hypothetical situation based
in the form of their opinion - educated or otherwise. Survey respondents
may be from different backgrounds and have varied attitudes and interests
and several factors such as age and social conditions will impact
the answers they provide. The subjects of polls can be anything from
the elections to movie releases and beauty pageants! What is common
among all polls is the fact that they tell us what a certain group's
stand is on an issue and not what is right. It must be accepted that
the subjects being surveyed are in all probability average people
with varied backgrounds.
So is there really any benefit to polling? Yes, many, in fact. A
poll more often than not is a good way to enhance positive public
perception and can give room for a constructive debate on issues.
Public opinion polls are pretty good catalysts for debates. When a
relatively large group of people are surveyed particularly if some
details of the study population are available then the report generated
after polling can be a significant measure of the strength of an opinion.
This is particularly relevant in national level polling that might,
for example, seek to study opinions on tax laws or changes in state
taxes. When such high level considerations are at play, an opinion
poll may be a vital factor in determining whether certain political
moves will gain public acceptance, or whether it is in the best interests
of the people at large.
Once gain, polling might have a positive impact at smaller levels
in institutions looking to make policy changes or planning strategies
that may have a widespread impact. For instance, a poll may be taken
on the public's opinion towards a proposed congressional law. If the
public reacts very negatively to the proposal the law then the law
may fail when it comes time to vote on it or it may even be pulled
from the floor without a vote. While many scoff at polls, truly scientific
polls are taken very serious because they are generally an accurate
reflection of public sentiment.
There are, however, downsides to opinion polling too and analyzing
survey results will mean giving sufficient scope for the possibility
of bias and misrepresentation. Not everything should be seen in black
and white and this is particularly true in opinion generation. Remember,
even the most scientific polls can be wrong. Also, it is not uncommon
for opinions to change after the poll is concluded. A positive approach
to polling with honest open-ended questions, and an optimistic comparison
of results will be of much value in deciding whether a survey should
really be taken at face value. Additionally, it is critical to look
at who is issuing the poll. If it is a respected polling company such
as Zogby or Rasmussen then the odds that the poll is accurate are
greater than if the polling company is a "fly by night" operation
or a decidedly non-scientific poll such as an online opinion poll.
A scientific and well researched survey, however, will undoubtedly
reveal a wealth of information and help make the right choice of measures
that need to be implemented. The reason for this is the fact that
they carefully select the people who are polled based on a number
of factors (demographics, level of interest in the subject, etc) and
this gives their polls credibility. More importantly, the results
of reliable polls will raise eyebrows and shape actions and opinions.
Well, most of the time they will.