In Defense of Public Opinion Polling

Kenneth F. Warren

First Edition • September 1, 2002 • 384 pages

Print ISBN: 9780813340296 • $49.00 USD$98.99 CAN

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      What do we really know about public opinion polls? Are they as flawed as conventional wisdom implies? How accurate are the polls, really? How can we spot a bad poll? Why do politicians and journalists have a love-hate relationship with polls? How do polls help us interpret history? Why has public opinion polling become so popular in other countries? In the 2000 national elections $100 million was spent on campaign polling alone. A $5 billion industry from Gallup to Zogby, public opinion polling is growing rapidly with the explosion of consumer-oriented market research, political and media polling, and controversial Internet polling. By many measures—from editorial cartoons to bumper stickers—we hate pollsters and their polls. We think of polling as hopelessly flawed, invasive of our privacy, and just plain annoying. At times we even argue that polling is illegal, unconstitutional, and downright un-American. Yet we crave the information polling provides. What do other Americans think about gun control? School vouchers? Airline performance? Or the Yankees’ chances for winning another World Series? Pollsters consult with jurists on the best venue for a controversial criminal trial. They advise car manufacturers on which paint colors to use for a new model. They guide city councils in how to divide public funding across competing priorities. Ken Warren closes this book with an especially candid report card on how 13 major pollsters fared in predicting the November 2000 presidential contest and how pollsters fared in making 136 projections in congressional and gubernatorial races across the United States. Despite the wild swings of the political season most pollsters were remarkably accurate in forecasting the results. Based on extensive interviews with major pollsters and a wide examination of current polling practices and results, In Defense of Public Opinion Polling argues strongly that well conducted scientific polls are not only accurate, but are valuable tools in understanding society and promoting its own best interests. This book is perfectly suited for courses in communications, and political psychology.

Ken Warren, President of The Warren Poll for over two decades, has polled for the media, government, private clients, and politicians, including House Minority Leader, Richard Gephardt. He has served as a political analyst for local, national, and international media for over 20 years, appearing in news sources such as The New York Times, The London Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Republic, and on ABC, CNN, CBS, Fox, MSNBC, PBS, CBC, BBC, NPR, and Swedish television. He is the author of many other works, including Administrative Law In The Political System. Ken lives in St. Louis with his wife, Annette, a novelist, and teaches public opinion polling at Saint Louis University.

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“…a good introduction to the contemporary debate that rages about the appropriate role of polls in a democratic society.”
— Political Science Quarterly

”I don’t like many aspects of polling but I do like this book. Every citizen needs to understand polling if only because we are overwhelmed with news media surveys today—-good ones and bad ones. Ken Warren arms us to know the difference. He carefully explains the fundamentals of polling, and he marshals the best defense of them I have yet seen. Importantly, Warren separates the wheat from the chaff, contrasting the mostly successful public polls in 2000 with the arrogant TV network exit polls that left omelet all over the anchors’ faces on election night. This book is perfect for both graduate and undergraduate courses on the American political process.”
— Larry J. Sabato, Director, University of Virginia Center for Politics

”Warren’s purpose is to educate the public about polls, and 98.7% (plus or minus 4%) will no doubt agree he has done a convincing job.”
— Publisher’s Weekly

”Kenneth Warren sets the record straight with this balanced, clear and cheerful account. His points are on target, plus or minus zero.”
— William Schneider, Senior Political Analyst, CNN

”Polls and pollsters were everywhere all the time in the 2000 election, but perhaps never more misunderstood. Warren brilliantly explains what we do, how we do it, and why we provide a valuable service. He also doesn’t hesitate to give us a useful kick in the shins when we need it.”
— John Zogby , President and CEO, Zogby International

”Ken Warren’s new book is a useful, and much needed, guide to understanding how public opinion polling has become an essential part of American democracy.”
— John B. Judis, Senior Editor, The New Republic and author of The Paradox of American Democracy

”Ken Warren knows polls—how to run them, how to interpret them, how to explain them. One hundred percent of the readers of his book will find it valuable.”
— Kevin Horrigan, Editorial Columnist, St.. Louis Post-Dispatch

”Ken Warren says the unpopular: that public opinion polling is vital to the workings of a representative democracy. This is the most lucid argument I have ever read defending the work of pollsters and attacking those who denigrate polls. Through thorough research and solid reasoning, Dr. Warren argues that polls are part of the underpinning of modern democracy. This is a must-read for anyone who is concerned about polls, or who worries about their effects. There is no better guide than Ken Warren when it comes to explaining the misunderstood science of gauging public opinion.”
— Charles Jaco, Correspondent, CBS Radio/ Author

”No study of opinion polling in American politics is as complete, as up-to-date and as engrossing as this one. Warren provides an absorbing analysis of the use and misuse of opinion polls and of the public’s love-hate relationship with polling. This book should be essential reading for political junkies…and for anyone addicted to or repelled by opinion polls.”
— David Halton, Senior Washington Correspondent, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

”Ken Warren’s book is a joy, whether you’re a political scientist or simply someone fascinated by the electoral process. He makes a strong case for the validity and usefulness of political polling. At a time when many are criticizing polls in the wake of the 2000 election, Warren expertly defends them.”
— Jim Salter, St. Louis correspondent, The Associated Press

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