HUFFPOLLSTER: American Public's Trust In Its Own Judgment At New Low

Americans’ well-documented mistrust of everything spills over into self-loathing. They also think government favors the wealthy. And pollsters debate their role in democracy. This is HuffPollster for Friday, September 27, 2013.

AMERICAN PUBLIC’S TRUST IN ITSELF AT NEW LOW - Jeffrey M. Jones: “Americans' trust in "the American people" to make judgments about political issues facing the country has declined each year since 2009 and, at 61%, is down nearly 20 percentage points from its recent peak in 2005. Still, that exceeds the 46% of Americans who trust the "men and women … who either hold or are running for public office," which is one point above the historical low from 2011….The public's declining trust in the American people to make judgments about political issues could be part of a more general process of declining trust in most governing institutions. It may also be an outgrowth of increasing polarization in the United States on key issues. Americans may trust "the people" less when they are more conscious that segments of the population hold views radically different from their own….Americans' average level of trust in the American people during the 1970s was 85%, including a high of 86% in 1976. The average since 2001 is 71%.” [Gallup]

MORE ON AAPOR'S REPORT ON PUBLIC OPINION & DEMOCRACY - Wednesday's HuffPollster summarized an in-depth report released in September on "Polling and Democracy" by a task force of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR). The 79-page report presented an extensive review of the academic literature and debates over the role of public opinion in government decision making, but also articulated "an important need for leaders to be able to find public opinion data, judge its quality, and then integrate and summarize it into comprehensible conclusions." Rather than advance a specific proposal on "who or what entity is involved in doing the finding, judging and integration," the report presented a "continuum of possibilities," ranging from "an increased public presence" advocating for scientific measurement of public opinion and its importance to democracy to the creation of "a central database or clearinghouse for public opinion data and analysis on specific topics." [Report of AAPOR task force, Santos introduction]

We asked for reactions from our readers. Here are three:

Marist Institute Senior Analyst Natalie Jackson, via Twitter: - "I've read it, and 140-char reaction is that I'm completely on board with all of it. I'd love to be involved." Jackson also pointed to the Duke Initiative on Survey Methodology’s Resources section as an example of what a community wiki, one of the report's suggestions, could look like. [@NatalieMJ84, Duke]

MassINC President Steve Koczela emailed to take issue with the "clearinghouse" proposal: "AAPOR must not insert itself between its members and the ears and eyes we are trying to reach. The recommendation that AAPOR could act as 'a clearinghouse for those who want and need summaries of where the American public stands on important issues' is off base and antithetical to the interests of many of its members. Pollsters in the private sector compete largely on the basis of our useful and accurate data and our interpretation of that data. The data itself is already aggregated by a growing number of outlets, and often given individual attention only if the pollster is to be pilloried for missing an election result. Now it appears AAPOR wants to act as an aggregator of interpretations. I struggle to imagine anything less useful than competing with AAPOR for attention regarding polling interpretation on a specific issue. This would set up AAPOR as an institution to compete directly with its dues-paying members. AAPOR should focus on helping chart the way ahead, much as they have been doing with the annual conferences, helpful task force reports on internet panels, non-probability interviews, and other topics. We need each other’s help right now with the many well-documented challenges facing the polling community. The last thing we need is competition from AAPOR."

Columbia University Professor Robert Y. Shapiro, co chair of the AAPOR Task Force on Public Opinion and Leadership, provided this response to Koczela via email: "My response regarding competing with AAPOR members is that this is not the case. First, keep in mind that all the polling organizations get to report and interpret their surveys first, not anyone else. Second, there are other our there that offer synthesis of polls on different issues, including pollster.com, fivethirtyeight, pollingreport.com reports lots of trends and other data, the Roper Center has done [and] will continue to do some of this. The AAPOR journal published refereed The Polls--Trends articles--so AAPOR is involved in doing some of this. Doing more in an organized and transparent way -- and with the Wiki idea if implemented allowing others to weigh in including the pollsters--is surely all the good. Last, I agree completely with Koozela's point about AAPOR focusing heavily on the methodological challenges and issues in the future of survey research. But AAPOR has long been much more than that, in helping academics, the professions, and more broadly with substantive topics in the STUDY AND ANALYSIS OF PUBLIC OPINION. The Task Force Report is all the good in my view as a way of emphasizing that part of AAPOR for which there has long been a substantial constituency (see the range of research published in POQ)."

AMERICANS THINK GOVERNMENT FAVORS THE RICH - Emily Swanson: “Most Americans think the government is doing more to help the rich at the expense of the poor and middle class, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll. According to the survey, 53 percent of Americans think the government does the most to help the rich, while 18 percent think it does most to help the poor, and 8 percent say the middle class. That puts Americans' perceptions of what the government actually does wildly at odds with what they think it should do. Forty-nine percent of respondents said they think the government should do most to help the middle class, while 36 percent said it should do most to help the poor. Only 2 percent said that the government should do most to help the rich.” [HuffPost]

CHANGING DEMOGRAPHICS FAVOR DEMOCRATS, BUT NO ‘LOCK’ - Thomas M. Holbrook: “Not long after the 2012 election some observers noted an increasing Democratic 'lock' on the Electoral College. Although Republican nominee Mitt Romney's campaign took a lot of heat for losing election, there has developed a general sense that changing demographics in key states are setting the stage for continued Republican difficulties in years to come....The movements over time have clearly favored the Democratic Party. Those states that have moved from somewhat competitive to Democratic, or from leaning Republican to fairly competitive, combine for a total of 227 electoral votes. Among those states that have made similar shifts toward the Republican Party (other than those that were in the Republican column to begin with), the electoral vote count is only 92....A clear trend toward the Democratic Party, yes, but hardly a lock on anything." [HuffPost]

FRIDAY'S 'OUTLIERS' - Links to more news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:

-Nate Cohn sees little chance for a Wendy Davis win in Texas. [New Republic]

-Micah Roberts (R) thinks the polling data on independent voters bodes well for Republicans in 2014. [POS]

-Harry Enten ponders what Chris Christie does next after a likely win in New Jersey. [Guardian]

-Alec Tyson and Carroll Doherty review lessons from the last government shutdown in 1995. [Pew Research]

-56 percent of Americans Google themselves. [Pew Research]

-PPP (D) finds Ted Cruz more trusted among Republicans than John Boehner, Mitch McConnell or John McCain. [HuffPost]

-How much do Americans hate Congress? Maybe not quite this much. [Onion]



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