Public morality, public opinion and policymaking

The Daily Guardian

In a democracy where referendum is the exception, and periodic elections are the norm, how are elected representatives expected to gather public opinion on matters of policy, including morality, before passing legislations which are ostensibly based on “public morality”? Gathering public opinion through surveys and polls is a fairly common practice these days. In March 2017, an article titled “Measuring Public Opinion with Surveys” was published in the Annual Review of Political Science. The article, authored by Adam J. Berinsky, a Professor at the Department of Political Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, revealed that since the 1930s “opinion polls—or surveys—have become the dominant way for politicians, media organizations, interest groups, and academic researchers to assess the public will” despite a body of scholarly work which has criticized the reliability of opinion polls. Prof. Berinsky was of the view that surveys “provide a more nuanced picture of the political cognition of individuals than do the blunt instruments of electoral returns” which, when combined with the big data revolution, have given policy makers and researchers sharper tools to distill public opinion.

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