Importance of Political Polls in
Political Communication
Wolfgang Donsbach
Department of Media and Communication
Technische Universität Dresden
Conference “How to read and understand political polls and surveys“
Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation/Wee Kim Wee School of Journalism
Singapore – January 24-27, 2012
www.donsbach.net
Public opinion research
Polling
Benhabib, S. (1996). Toward a
deliberative model of democratic
legitimacy. In S. Benhabib (Ed.),
Democracy and difference. Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press
Dryzek, J. S. (2002). Deliberative
Democracy and Beyond: Liberals,
Critics, Contestations. New York:
Oxford University Press.
Goodin, R.E. (2000).
Democratic deliberation
within. Philosophy and
Public Affairs, 29.
Chambers, S. (1996).
Reasonable democracy. Ithaca,
NY: Cornell University Press.
Evans, J. St. B. T., & Thompson, V. A.
(2004). Informal reasoning: Theory
and method. Canadian Journal of
Experimental Psychology, 58(2), 6974.
„deliberative turn“ (Dryzek)
AHuspek,
new interest
in the public
sphere
M. (2007).
Fishkin,
J. (1991). Democracy
Symposium: Habermas and
deliberative democracy:
Introductory remarks.
Communication Theory,
17(4), 329–332.
and deliberation. Binghamton,
NY: Vail-Ballou Press.
Kim, J., Wyatt, R. O., & Katz, E.
(1999). News, Talk, Opinion,
Mutz, D. (2006). Hearing the Other
participation: The part played
Side: Deliberative versus Participatory
by conversation in deliberative
Democracy. New York: Cambridge.
democracy. Political
Fearson, J. (1998). Deliberation as Communication, 16, 361-385
discussion. In J. Elster (Ed.),
Deliberative democracy (pp.
44–68). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge
University Press.
www.donsbach.net
Why is „deliberative turn“ happening?
 Related to status of communication research
 seeking the core (or one of its core) object(s)
 seeking to integrate different epistemologies
 Empirical research needs normative guidance if it does
not want to become arbitrary, random, irrelevant
 Looking for gap norms/reality
  „Regression model“
www.donsbach.net
Regression Model of Political Communication
Necessary
Characteristics of
the Media
Necessary
Characteristics
of the Citizens
Expected
Characteristics
of Society
Independence
Informed
Freedom
Objectivity
Interested
Self-Determination
Plurality
Involved
Relevance
Communicative
Seriosity
Value-based
…
…
Tolerance
Rationality
„Discoursive Public“
…
www.donsbach.net
Discourse About Discourse
 Old tension between norm and reality  Lippmann 1922
•
Schudson (1998): “problematic ideal of the informed citizen“ 
„created such impossible intellectual demands on citizens that it
serves to weaken rather than strengthen efforts to create a
more participatory, democratic civic life“
www.donsbach.net
Discourse About Discourse: Is this sufficient?
Burgler alarm news standard
(Zaller)
Monitoring citizen
(Schudson)
www.donsbach.net
Habermas‘ Problem: Protectionist View of Citizen
„The institutional design is to guarantee
(a) the equal protection of individual members of civil society by the rule of
law through a system of basic liberties that is compatible with the same
liberties for everybody; equal access to and protection by independent
courts; and a separation of powers between legislation, jurisdiction, and
the executive branch that ties public administration to the law. The design
is to guarantee
Asking everything of „the system“
and
almost
of citizens
the citizen
(b) the political
participation
of asnothing
many interested
as possible
through equal communication and participation rights; periodic elections
[…]; the competition between different parties, platforms, and programs;
and the majority principle for political decisions in representative bodies.
The design is to guarantee
(c) an appropriate contribution of a political public sphere to the formation of
considered public opinions through a separation of a (tax-based) state
from a (market-based) society, communication and association rights and
a regulation of the power structure of the public sphere securing the
diversity of independent mass media, and a general access of inclusive
mass audiences to the public sphere.”
(Habermas 2006, S. 412,
www.donsbach.net
Habermas‘ Problem: Protectionist View of Citizen
 Even worse: Citizen is not part of the model!
 3 actors
•
Politicians
•
Media professionals
•
Lobbyists, advocates, experts, „moral entrepreneurs“ and
intellectuals
 We have to focus on the citizen, the public again
 What can we expect from them?
 And how do they perform?
www.donsbach.net
Dashboard indicators of
democracy don‘t look good
Declining Interest in Politics
“In the most general sense, are you interested in politics?“
“Very interested“ and “interested“ in percent (15-24 Year-Olds)
Shell (2010)
www.donsbach.net
„Enjoying the news“
source: Pew Research Center
www.donsbach.net
Awareness: The older the more
Q: „Now I want to ask you about a topic of yesterday´s news. Have you
accidentally heard about PARTICULAR TOPIC?“
%
80
n=600 (each)
Basis: German population
70
„Yes“
60
50
40
News Topics 1
30
News Topics 2
20
News Topics 3 (Soft News)
10
News Topics 1+2
0
14–17
18–29
30+
www.donsbach.net
Information Intake by age
What proportion of the population got information about the news topics?
% 60
Basis: Whole population!
n=600 (each)
50
40
30
20
News Topic 1
News Topic 2
10
Both Topics
0
14–17
18–29
30+
www.donsbach.net
The 3-classes information society
Elite
High political media use and participation
The Pseudo Informed
Superficial interest in politics, basic
knowledge (more of people than issues),
typical audience of talkshows,
Participation reduced to voting, moderate
cynicism to politics and political actors
Communicative Precariat
Almost no political media use, distant to politics, no
participation, low knowledge, high degree of cynicism
to politics and political actors
www.donsbach.net
How far away are we from ideal of public sphere?
“the telos of public deliberation is the emergence of informed
and reasoned public opinion. If the communication theory of
public spheres in general, and the political public sphere in
particular, has more than theoretical significance, it lies in its
capacity to model actual communicative practices that lead
to…considered public opinion.”
Hauser 2007
Public opinion research  find the gaps, evaluate them, and
show the way
www.donsbach.net
Challenges of political polls
Public Opinion Research: Challenges
 Validity
What does public opinion research measure?
 Accuracy
How well do they measure what they pretend to measure?
 Populism
Do they make politicians look after the majority
 Effects
Do they affect the electorate?
www.donsbach.net
The Validity of Opinion Polls
 Validity = Do we measure what we pretend to measure?
 We pretend to measure public opinion
 What is public opinion?
www.donsbach.net
Public Opinion Research as an Issue
 Validity = Do we measure what we pretend to measure?
 We pretend to measure public opinion
 But what is public opinion?
 Normative concepts
www.donsbach.net
Coffee houses in London, early 18. century
Pictures: JURAJ KITTLER Pennsylvania State University
www.donsbach.net
Emergence of the Public Sphere (Habermas 1962)
End of 16./17. century
Mercantilism,
Capitalism
Emerging
bourgeoisie
Legitimized towards
authoritarian government
a-political
public sphere
(still)
political
topics
(then)
Coffee houses/saloons
Public good
Egalitarian
„topics of government“
Rational
England: early 18. century
Denaturalization/
Structural change
www.donsbach.net
Public Opinion Research as an Issue
 Validity = Do we measure what we pretend
to measure?
 We pretend to measure public opinion
 But what is public opinion?
 Normative concepts
 Functional concepts
www.donsbach.net
Public Opinion in Luhmann‘s Theory
High demand for
decisions in
society
Complex
societies
Rules of attention
public opinion:
reduction of
complexity
Attention of the
public = scarce
commodity
Opinion formation
among decisionmakers
www.donsbach.net
What is public opinion?
 Validity = Do we measure what we pretend to measure?
 We pretend to measure public opinion
 But what is public opinion?
 Normative concepts
 Functional concepts
 Socio-psychological concepts
www.donsbach.net
Person A
Others
Own opinion on
topic X
consonant
No fear of
islolation
Talk
dissonant
Fear of isolation
Stay silent
Perception of
others‘ opinion
on X
Perception of
others‘ opinion on
X
Direct
observation
Time t2
Perception
through the
media
Time t1
Quelle: Donsbach 1987, 327
www.donsbach.net
What is public opinion?
 Validity = Do we measure what we pretend to measure?
 We pretend to measure public opinion
 But what is public opinion?
 Normative concepts
 Functional concepts
 Socio-psychological concepts
 Is its unit of analysis the individual or the collective?
 Is public opinion rational or irrational?
www.donsbach.net
What is public opinion?
Two basic lines of conflict
I. Individual – Collective
PO = only aggregation of
individual opinions?
or
Collective phenomenon, product
of debates and discourses that
cannot be reduced to opinions of
individuals
II. Rationality - Subjectivity
PO = expression of the
opinion of knowledgeable
citizens
or
Volatile, dangerous moods of the
masses driven by emotions?
www.donsbach.net
What is public opinion?
 Validity = Do we measure what we pretend to measure?
 We pretend to measure public opinion
 But what is public opinion?
 Normative Concepts
 Functional Concepts
 Socio-psychological concepts
 Is its unit of analysis the individual or the collective?
 Is public opinion rational or irrational?
 Concept of the pollsters: What ever opinions the polls measure
 Mixture of all of these?
 Be aware of what we measure!
www.donsbach.net
Public Opinion Research: Challenges
 Validity
What does public opinion research measure?
 Accuracy
How well do they measure what they pretend to measure?
 Populism
Do they make politicians look after the majority
 Effects
Do they affect the electorate?
www.donsbach.net
We have come a long way
The Art of Asking Questions
(Payne 1951)
Scientific Paradigm for Surveys
(Tourangeau 2003)
Payne, S. L. (1951). The art of
asking questions. Princeton:
University Press.
Tourangeau, R., Rips, L. J. und
Rasinski, K. (2000). The psychology of
survey response. Cambridge:
University Press.
www.donsbach.net
We have come a long way
www.donsbach.net
We have come a long way: Research on methods in POQ
Presser 2011
www.donsbach.net
Mastering the method by its errors
Sources of polling errors
Weisbergs Total Survey Error Approach
Weisberg 2008, in Donsbach & Traugott
www.donsbach.net
Forms of Non-Response
NonResponse
Item-NonResponse
No Contact
UnitNonresponse
Refusals
Uncapables
www.donsbach.net
Fig 1: Response Rate
Figure 1 suggests that SCA response rates have been marked by three distinct
periods: a gradual decline from 1979 to 1989, a plateau from 1989 to 1996
(when there was essentially no change), followed by an even sharper decline
after 1996. SCA: University of Michigan’s Survey of Consumer Attitudes
(SCA)
www.donsbach.net
Reasons?
1. General social changes: More single households, more
mobility, less social participation
2. Reputation of surveys, marketing and sales „surveys“
3. Overfishing
4. Importance of data protection
5. Fear of crime
6. Boring questionnaires
7. Unmotivated interviewers
8. Dubious pollsters
www.donsbach.net
Weisbergs Total Survey Error Approach
Weisberg 2008, in Donsbach & Traugott
www.donsbach.net
(a) Cognitive Processing of
Stimuli
Applying Heuristics in the Use of Scales: Success in Life
Q: "How successful hav e y ou been so far in y our life?" Scale v erbally endpoints
identical
Scale 0-10
Scale -5 bis +5
40
35
35
30
25
23
20
20
20
14
15
9
10
7
0
1
2
0
0
14
9
6
5
5
0
20
3
1
1
1
4
3
2
www.donsbach.net
Sensitive instrument
„Do you believe in the great
love“?
„Do you actually believe in
the great love?“
Yes
52%
Yes
57%
No
29%
No
26%
Unsure
19%
Unsure
17%
Quelle: Noelle-Neumann & Petersen 2005, 195
www.donsbach.net
The Consequence: Cognitive Questionnaire Design
Temporal Determinants
(context effects)
Question
Comprehension
Retrieving
relevant
information
Permanent determinants
Judgment
Giving
answer
www.donsbach.net
Increasing elaboration of survey methodology: e.g.
question wording
 Analysis by Schaeffer & Dykema 2011
 78 articles in POQ only on question wording !!
 Example: Measuring frequency!
www.donsbach.net
Increasing elaboration of survey methodology:
e.g. question wording
Schaeffer & Dykema 2011
www.donsbach.net
(b) Volatility of (voting)
behavior
Volatility of (voting) behavior
 50s/60s: Lazarsfeld, Campbell,Converse: “voting
predispositions” and “normal vote” = voting behavior
explained by a few variables
 social and geographical mobility
 exposure to many different influences
 voting behavior a variable rather than a constant in life
 time of decision-making ever later
 Late influences by events, sentiments, and scandalizations
 the task of political pollsters has never been more difficult
than today.
www.donsbach.net
Weisbergs Total Survey Error Approach
Weisberg 2008, in Donsbach & Traugott
www.donsbach.net
Weisbergs Total Survey Error Approach
Weisberg 2008, in Donsbach & Traugott
www.donsbach.net
www.donsbach.net
Questions for the future
 Will the telephone interview disappear?
 Will the interviewer become obsolete?
 Will „farming“ our respondents replace original fresh samples?
 Cooper 2011: so far more supplement than substitution of
new methods
www.donsbach.net
Weisbergs Total Survey Error Approach
Weisberg 2008, in Donsbach & Traugott
www.donsbach.net
www.donsbach.net
The heydays of polling are gone
 Glorious days of political opinion polling in late 80s/early 90s
•
almost all households had landline telephone
•
most people excited about being interviewed
•
people didn’t change their political minds as quickly as today.
 “Although we have no way of knowing how public opinion
research will unfold in the next 25 years, we suspect it will
look fairly different than it does today” (Editors POQ 2011)
www.donsbach.net
Nevertheless: Predictions still accurate
Michael W. Traugott
(2005): The Accuracy of
the National Preelection
Polls in the 2004
Presidential Election.
Public Opinion Quarterly
69, 642-654
Allensbach: in
50 years less
than 1%
deviation per
party and
election
www.donsbach.net
Public Opinion Research: Challenges
 Validity
What does public opinion research measure?
 Accuracy
How well do they measure what they pretend to measure?
 Populism
Do they make politicians look after the majority
 Effects
Do they affect the electorate?
www.donsbach.net
The thin line between responsiveness and populism
 Pennock 1952: "responsiveness = "reflecting and giving expression to the will
of the people"
 Dicey 1963: "The opinion of the governed is the real foundation of all
government... Dahl 1971: "I assume that a key characteristic of a democracy is
the continuing responsiveness of the government to the preferences of its
citizens, considered as political equals"
 Ginsberg (1986,5): "Responsiveness is the chief standard against which
governmental conduct should be judged“
 Cambridge Dictionary: Populism = "political ideas and activities that are
intended to represent ordinary people's needs and wishes".
 Albertazzi & McDonnell (2008): an ideology that "...pits a virtuous and
homogeneous people against a set of elites and dangerous ‘others’ who are
together depicted as depriving (or attempting to deprive) the sovereign people
of their rights, values, prosperity, identity, and voice
www.donsbach.net
Measuring responsiveness: Page & Shapiro 1983
 Surveys 1935 – 1979: 609 questions, asked several times
 Change = at least 6 points
  357 situations of change in political preferences of US Americans
 For each situation: Sampling of political decisions 2 years prior and 4 years
after change on local, state and federal level
 43% of situations political descions made in congruence with trend in public
opinion, 22% incongruent, 33% no change
 "Congruent changes in policy were clearly much more frequent than noncongruent changes" (177)
 "Opinion clearly moved first“
 1960s on: more congruency than under Eisenhower und Kennedy
 More congruent with changes in favor of liberal positions (83% vs. 53%)
www.donsbach.net
Measuring responsiveness: Brettschneider 1995
www.donsbach.net
Factors influencing responsiveness








Issue salience
size of opinion majorities
Magnitudes of opinion changes
the time in an election cycle
changes in the governing elites
Degree of electoral competition
domestic > foreign policy
which institutional actors are taking action
there are a great many studies of representation and responsiveness that
provide evidence for strong effects of public opinion on government policies at
different levels. That said, the causal processes that appear to operate in
these and other studies also reveal limits to democracy: Other influences and
obstructions are at work, and government actions and policies fall short of
what the public wants, even as they move in desired directions. Thus, as Page
(2002) has claimed, the public is ‘‘semi-sovereign’’ (Schattschneider 1960)
Shapiro 2011
www.donsbach.net
Public Opinion Research: Challenges
 Validity
What does public opinion research measure?
 Accuracy
How well do they measure what they pretend to
measure?
 Populism
Do they make politicians look after the majority
 Effects
Do they affect the electorate?
www.donsbach.net
Effects: Has become the least of the problems…
www.donsbach.net
Hypotheses on Effects of Published Polls
Label
Effect on ...
Beneficiary
Bandwagon
Vote
The stronger party
Underdog
Vote
The weaker party
Defeatist
Voter turnout: the supporters
of weaker parties do not vote
The stronger party
Lethargy
Voter turnout: the supporters
of strong parties do not vote
The weaker party
Mobilization
Voter turnout: the supporters
of one or both parties are
more active
The stronger, weaker
or both parties
Guillotine
Vote: the supporters of
smaller parties vote for their
second choice
Large parties
Facilitating
tactics
Vote: the supporters of a
party vote for their second
choice in order to facilitate a
coalition
The other parties
Preventive
tactics
Vote: the supporters of a
party vote for their second
The other parties
www.donsbach.net
Methods applied to measure effects
 Self-reports: Statements made by respondents about influences
on their voting decision.
 Ex-post-facto analyses: connection between exposure to poll
data and expectations of the outcome of the election or a person’s
own voting behavior.
 Natural experiments: Use of external circumstances at an
election (time zones, by-election)
 Field or laboratory experiments with polls as stimulus
Evidence?
www.donsbach.net
 Results contradictory
 depend on methods/circumstances (election system, party or
candidate lign-up)
 The more natural the research setting, the smaller the effects
 Experiments and self-declaration: biggest
 natural experiments: smallest effects
 If influence: band-wagon effect most likely
 „interpretation tool“,„best guess-strategy“
 Socio-psychological motivations
 Certain electoral systems: tactical voting for second choice
 Quorum like 5%-hurdle: voters of smaller parties
 Voters of bigger party that needs small party as coalition partner
All in all: effects are small and not jeopardizing
political or electoral system
www.donsbach.net
Four reasons for small influence
 In most cases: diverging polls available in a campaign
 Selective exposure to election polls
 Predictions from others (media, politicians)
 „Man-in-street-interviews“ more effective than poll results (effect
of „exemplars“)
www.donsbach.net
Why we need political polls
Have not replaced public discourse
Are not per se public opinion
But are one important element of it
democracy needs the exchange of opinions and not only
their measurement
 No (free) political polls in authoritarian systems




www.donsbach.net
To sum up: Three major functions of polls in a
democracy
 Representation: tell us what the public thinks
 Communication:
•
a) tell governments what the people expect
•
show the degree of legitimization that a government has
 Enlightenment: supply hard empirical facts against
subjective assertions of what the public really thinks and
really wants, be it by politicians or the press.
 Freedom versus best practice
www.donsbach.net
Download

Importance of Political Polls in Political Communication