U. S. Government: Democracy In Action

Chapter 18: Interest Groups and Public Opinion

Student Web Activity

"Public Opinion Polls"

In this chapter you have learned about the types of interest groups in the United States, how lobbyists affect public policy, how public opinion is formed in the United States, and the methods used to measure public opinion. In this activity you will take a closer look at an organization that conducts polling to monitor public opinion on various issues.

Destination Title: Public Agenda Online

Note: Clicking on the link above will launch a new browser window.
Need help using your browser for this activity? Click here for tips.

Start at the Public Agenda Online Web site.

  • In the menu on the left of the screen, click on the topics About Public Agenda and About Polling and browse through the material. Under About Polling, read the article titled Best Estimates: A Guide to Sample Size and Margin of Error.
  • Return to the main screen. Under the "Issues" heading on the left side of the screen, choose an issue you would like to learn more about and click on it.
  • On the screen featuring your chosen issue, click on People's Chief Concerns.
  • From this page click on several of the topics or statements that are given. This will bring up graphs presenting the public's opinion on the issue.
  • Scroll through the pages, taking notes as you go.

After you have read through the information, answer the following questions.

What is Public Agenda? What is the mission of this organization?
What is the "margin of error" of a poll or survey?
For the issue that you chose to learn more about, summarize in one or two sentences what the general feeling of the public seems to be about the issue.
Choose one of the graphs that is presented for your issue. At the bottom of the screen presenting the graph, click on For More Details. How many people were part of the survey? Who were they? How was the survey conducted? Based on this information, do you think that the survey results are reliable?
Conduct a survey of your own. Think about a question or topic that is of concern to your school or your classmates. Draft a questionnaire, and with your teacher's permission, survey a sample of students in your school. Once you have the results, summarize your findings in a brief written explanation and graphs. Do the results of your survey seem accurate?
US Government: Democracy In Action
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