How Pollsters Serve The Public Discourse

I’m pleased to call myself a survey researcher, and beyond that, a pollster. Certainly, we are enormously proud of our work as pollsters – our exit polling data for the National Election Pool is the lasting record of who voted, and why, and that’s a charge we take very seriously here at Edison. Occasionally, it is disheartening to hear the word “pollster” used in public parlance – it is often paired with “pundits,” and used in a disparaging manner. That’s why I am always gratified to see examples of how survey researchers and pollsters not only provide content for the media, but also serve the public good, and provide data that actually makes peoples’ lives better.

The best example of this, of course, is the U.S. Census, which absolutely is designed to benefit the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of Americans, all through the responses to ten simple questions (see for yourself.) Even those who are staunchly opposed to the Census often find themselves unknowingly quoting or alluding to data that could not exist were it not for the census.

Now, courtesy of Friend-of-Edison (FOE) Cliff Zukin, Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Rutgers University, we have another compelling example. Cliff and his colleagues have recently concluded a look at America’s long-term unemployed, and have revealed an oft-overlooked side of American society that deserves more attention and debate.

This study examined a national sample of 1,200 unemployed Americans in August 2009, and resampled those same Americans in March and November 2010 to study how their circumstances, emotions and prospects have changed over time. One of the most disturbing findings: only 26% have found full-time jobs since the study began, and many of those jobs are for less money than these Americans made before the recession. Even more troubling, however, is the finding that most of these underemployed Americans believe that they won’t ever get back to their pre-recession incomes.

Unemployment and underemployment can be tracked by a variety of measures. A new national pessimism, however, is another story – an important part of American public discourse – and for that, we have Cliff Zukin, Carl Van Horn and the pollsters at Rutgers’ Heldrich Center to thank.

So this holiday season, hug a pollster.

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