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Political Scientists Launch Internet Polling Experiment

Date: Oct. 9, 2000
By: Carey Hoffman
Phone: (513) 556-1825
Archive: Research News Cincinnati -- An on-line experiment at the University of Cincinnati hopes to begin breaking down barriers to a promising new era of fast and inexpensive polling.

Leading up to the November election, UC's new Internet Public Opinion Laboratory (I-POL) will be conducting an on-line presidential election poll. The project explores the issues surrounding how an Internet-based poll is currently used, and how it could be improved to get an accurate view of overall public opinion.

Much like telephone-based sampling revolutionized polling in the 1970s, I-POL researchers believe Internet-based polling has the potential to take polling to a new level of speed and convenience.

"This is a prototype for the future, we believe," says George Bishop, UC professor of political science and director of I-POL. "Down the road, when a much higher percentage of households have access to the Internet in the same way we now have access to the telephone, this will be the cost-effective way to do everything (in polling)."

I-POL's presidential poll is its first experimental project. The 25-question poll asks for opinions on candidates and issues relating to this year's presidential campaign. The poll, which can be accessed on the Web at is part of the doctoral work of political science grad student B.J. Jabbari, who also holds a master's degree in computer science from UC. I-POL researchers plan on offering a way to receive the poll's results via e-mail once the poll is complete.

A more important question for the researchers is how the results of their sample obtained only over the Internet compares with traditional opinion research. When the results match, Internet polling will be ready for prime time.

"Conservatively, 10 years down the road, we'll be in position to produce probability samples from people on-line," Bishop says. "An ability to get instant reaction to debates and other political events with representative samples is the vision."

Along with polling becoming faster and less expensive, Internet polling also has the potential to become more innovative than contemporary polling. For example, it would be possible to use multimedia on the Internet instead of just simple text. Those responding to the poll might see a candidate's picture as well the questions. Another example could be replaying a segment of a debate on the Internet and asking poll respondents to react to that part of the debate.

That will create many more polls, allowing those who study polling - like Bishop - to more easily analyze whether a given poll's results are being influenced by the structure of the questions being asked.

The I-POL project is a part of UC's Center for the Study of Democratic Citizenship.

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