Regulation of Opinion Polls: A Comparative Perspective

  • Thomas Petersen

Abstract

If we want to understand the complicated relationship between public opinion research and government authorities, we should start by considering the relationship between survey researchers and journalists. The state, the media and survey research all find themselves in a tense threeway relationship, where each is dependent on the others and each views the other two as a potential threat. The great German publisher Rudolf Augstein once referred to survey research as journalism’s ‘ravenous baby brother’, in that it attempts to break the media’s monopoly on interpreting the current social conditions, thereby devouring a piece of the media’s right to tell the public how the world allegedly looks. ‘We opinion journalists’, he remarked, ‘had gotten used to speaking for entire groups and segments of the population, even for our readership as a whole, and we were certainly prepared – albeit somewhat begrudgingly – to be contradicted every four years when the federal elections came around, but not every month or even every week’ (Augstein 1973, XVIII; cf. Noelle-Neumann 1993a, p. 111). Nevertheless, the media use survey research continuously and with increasing intensity: in fact, the media need survey results as they offer information that their users expect but that cannot be obtained reliably from any other sources.

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© Thomas Petersen 2012

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  • Thomas Petersen

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