The Public Interest

The wavering polls

Seymour Martin Lipset

Spring 1976

PUBLIC opinion research is in both good shape and bad shape. On the one hand, polling is probably more generally accepted and used now than ever before. Businesses, governments, politicians, and labor all commission surveys before starting a “sales campaign,” or in order to evaluate how they are doing with segments of the public. They want a breakdown of the publics values and interests, with respect to what they are selling or doing. The survey has become a major tool of academic research. Government agencies now use samples in lieu of population censuses. The breathlessly awaited unemployment figures are the product of sample surveys.

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