Polling in the Year 2000
Public opinion surveys on political, social, and economic issues have been conducted in many nations for nearly fifty years. Yet, it is not too early to think about the next century and the further improvements that are needed in polling techniques, and the manner in which polls can help governments to be more responsive to the will of the people. In his monumental work, The American Commonwealth, James Bryce predicted, in 1892, that the next and final stage in the development of democracy would be reached when the will of the people could be known at all times, and without the need for election machinery. Lord Bryce’s prediction is near realization. In most Western nations reliable national polls can be conducted by telephone in a matter of a few hours. And, perhaps, in the final years of the present century, through cable television, people in many Western nations will be able to push a button or buttons that will record their views on a central computer. We will then have what some observers in the United States describe as “instant public opinion”. Mechanical problems need to be worked out — chiefly to identify the persons who push the buttons — to see how representative they are of the total population; but these problems will be solved in due time.
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