Getting real opinions from polls
Polls give people the chance to speak for themselves.

Dear Editor,

I have a basic grasp of research methods and I try to add to what I know each day.

I used to be amazed at public opinion polling in Jamaica during the 1970s and 1980s. Today, I enjoy reading newspaper reports on current public opinion polls.

The process, then and now, is an important aspect of contemporary politics in Jamaica. My interest in research steered me into this letter.

In terms of the recent public opinion polls, I have a few questions to ask. I also want to say I do not think anyone should celebrate or sulk at the results of the latest polls. My major problem is that all I see are numbers and numbers cannot explain themselves. The data collected by the researchers, from my perspectives, do not explain why the respondents believe the way they do, or why they made their particular choice or changed their minds.

My understanding is that public opinion polls have to do with the collective opinion on matters affecting the public. Measuring public opinion is complex, but not impossible.

There are different approaches to the collection and interpretation of the related data. Given the nature of politics, I think it is important to conduct public opinion polls with survey and interviews. Politics is about people and numbers cannot speak for people; they cannot express the attitude of the people. This mixed method approach collects both quantitative and qualitative data resulting in the extracting of the political attitudes of the people along with the statistical data. Against this background, the process of interpretation requires collaboration of the researchers with socio-political thinkers to make sense of the results.

Public opinion polls are important. They are constructed in such a manner that allows a wide cross section of society — regardless of age, wealth, race, class and knowledge of politics — to have an equal voice about political issues. Polls give people the chance to speak for themselves, especially those who do not have access to the media. It is important that we design or redesign the process to capture those voices in the survey.

Louis E A Moyston, PhD


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