Measuring and Influencing Public Opinion - Reading Comprehension
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Measuring and Influencing Public Opinion Reading Comprehension
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Measuring and Influencing Public Opinion
By Phyllis Naegeli
  

1     The First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the right of freedom of the press and freedom of speech. These important liberties allow individuals in our country to receive information and develop opinions about topics of importance. Once an individual has a basic set of beliefs, they usually find there are others who share the same views. When a large group of people shares the same belief on a political topic, it is called public opinion. The government wants to know how people feel about many different subjects. So do interest groups, political parties, candidates for office, and the media. They gather this information through polls.
 
2     A poll is a set of questions about a certain subject. Polls must be properly worded, ordered, and timed to be accurate. It is very easy to word and order questions to influence the person being polled. Because there have been problems in the past, there are independent groups that now set the standards for polls. They help to make sure questions are specific and detailed so that precise results are obtained. In addition, public opinion can change rapidly, especially on new issues that arise. Therefore, polls must be timed appropriately. When an issue first arises, it is usually best to allow some time to pass before taking a poll. This gives people the time to process information about the issue before expressing their opinion. When properly formatted and conducted, polls give people a way to express their opinions in order for beliefs to be measured. Using mathematics and statistics, pollsters can determine how to gather accurate information. However, polls are never one hundred percent accurate. All include a scientifically calculated margin of error.
 
3     A randomly selected group of people takes part in a poll. The sample of people chosen must reflect the larger picture. For example, the government might want to know what senior citizens think about their health care. The poll would include questions related to how people over sixty-five feel about the care they receive. It may also include what kind of care they receive on a regular basis and general questions such as income and gender. The sample should include enough people to represent the senior population at large.

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