Monday, November 24, 2008

Polls and the American Voter

With history being made in the very recent presidential election, I wanted to present a topic that affects us, the American voter. My case study revolved around polling. I presented different research methods in polling, theories that have been apparent in political elections, and the accuracy of polling in past and present elections.

Before I reflect and discuss my case study, I will provide a brief summary of the research, theories, and accuracy of polling. Polling falls under the group of survey research which makes generalizations about a population of people by addressing questions to a sample of that population. A type of survey research, opinion polls, better inform the public about opinions taking place in that culture. Opinion polls have been the most popular and successful method of determining how the American voter feels about a particular election. There are 2 main sets of opinion polls in an election; that of pre-election polls and exit polls. Over the years, polls have become more accurate in representing the American public. In a time span of 60 years, we have moved from the 1948 election of Dewey vs. Truman, where the Chicago Tribune Herald mistakenly claimed the wrong president won the election from bad polling results to this past 2008 election where the polls showed the correct results in all states except North Carolina. From the research conducted about polling, two major theories have arisen. One is the Bradley Effect which is a theory proposed to explain observed discrepancies between voter opinion polls and election outcomes in some US government elections where a white candidate and a non-white candidate run against each other. The second is the Spiral of Silence which asserts that a person is less likely to voice an opinion on a topic if one feels that one is in the minority for fear of reprisal or isolation from the majority.

Following my presentation, the class felt that polling can both encourage and discourage the American voter. Depending on the location of the voter and the popular beliefs held in their proximity determines how polls will affect a particular individual. It is a case-by-case situation. The discussion also followed the question of whether the Bradley Effect or the Spiral of Silence was present in this past 2008 Presidential Election. Surprisingly enough, the class felt like the Bradley Effect did not present a problem in the election even though there was a black candidate running against a white candidate. Yet, there was a belief that the Spiral of Silence did take place in this election. Many students talked about how their family members or friends were nervous in proclaiming who they would vote for if it went against the popular candidate of that area.

This course theme was extremely interesting to study. It showed how much time and effort is put into researching media effects and how to carefully examine the data that is presented. Although I feel that media research is helpful in many aspects, there is also the problem of stereotypes arising in determining a particular phenomenon about a certain culture. A particular website a found very interesting that I did not present in my case study is the following:

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