Opinion polling is one way to determine what certain demographics of people are thinking or feeling about any given subject. By asking groups of people specific questions about issues, an overview of the public perspective can be achieved so that targeted actions can be taken. The benefit here is that more information allows for a better decision to be made, but the disadvantage is that it is possible to get incorrect information because a limited sample is used. In examining the pros and cons of opinion polling, here are some of the additional key points that should be considered as well.
The Pros of Opinion Polling
1. A majority opinion can be determined without an election.
Opinion polls are an easy way to see how the general public is thinking or feeling about any given subject. Instead of the costs of a referendum or an election on the issue, opinion polls can help those in leadership to determine what the best response should be from the governing body. This applies in the business world just as it does the political world.
2. Randomness helps to create more potential accuracy.
Because opinion polls are usually random interviews of average people within a core demographic, the information is generally accurate when it goes outward to the feelings of the entire demographic. Although small population samples hinder this process [100 people out of 100 million is hardly reflective], large population samples can create some solid information.
3. Facts can help people identify thinking errors.
Many people form opinions based on what they see as relevant facts. If those facts can be proven false thanks to data collected through opinion polls and other avenues, then it becomes possible for people to find a way to change their mind or deepen their perspective. This happens because opinion polls give people the opportunity to see their perspectives through the eyes of another.
4. It is highly affordable to complete.
To complete an opinion poll, all someone has to do is pick up a telephone or head out into the streets to begin speaking with people. Many polls can be completed over the course of a day or two with very minimal effort and then the data can be compiled to create relevant information.
The Cons of Opinion Polling
1. The results can influence others in a negative way.
Opinion polls that are released in real-time can have a detrimental effect on certain population groups. A classic example of this is during the US Presidential election every 4 years. Because there is a 3 hour time difference from the East Coast and West Coast of the US, opinion polls that dictate a projected winner when some states are still voting can influence the actions of others.
2. The results are not always accurate.
The answers given in an opinion poll are not always a true reflection of what a person’s opinion happens to be. Opinions are nuanced and subtle, based on individual experiences and thoughts. A simple “yes” or “no” doesn’t reflect those nuances at all. Someone might say “yes” to being pro-choice, yet their opinion regarding the subject has varying degrees of nuance that might make it seem like they could say “yes” to being pro-life as well.
3. Samples are only a random reflection of opinions.
The random sampling process helps to eliminate errors, but it also means that there is the possibility that only a small sub-section of a targeted demographic has been interviewed for the poll. If you take 100 random people in any group from the street and ask them a question, there’s a chance that you could 100 similar answers. That’s the nature of randomness.
4. People can try to alter the results of an opinion poll by providing false answers.
The one primary weakness of an opinion poll is that it must make an assumption that everyone interviewed is telling the truth. If enough people got involved with a poll and wanted to alter the results by giving false opinions, then the information would be skewed and no one would ever realize it.
The pros and cons of opinion polling show that it can be a good information gathering tool, but the information collection should be taken with a grain of salt. It may not be a 100% accurate representation of an entire demographic, but a large enough sampling can be a fair representation. That makes opinion polling useful in a wide variety of ways.