Q. How do you decide what questions to ask in your polls?
The subjects that we decide to cover in each of our surveys — and the particular questions we ask about them — are arrived at in a number of ways.
One important factor is, of course, what is happening in the nation and the world. We aim to cover the news. We try to do the best job we can to measure the opinions and attitudes of the public. We focus on those aspects of opinion that are key to press, politics and policy debates. And as part of as those assessments we want also to examine what people know about current events, to test what news they follow and what facts they absorb from it. To the extent possible, we want to do all that in real time — while the issues involved are still on the front burner.
A second source of subjects is updating the major data bases we have established over time, knowing that shifts in trends are often as important — or even more important — than the particular attitudes expressed at a point in time. These include our periodic updates on political values, opinions about the press, about religion and politics, views of “America’s Place in the World” as well as media behavior and political engagement including voter participation. And, of course, there are our much watched Pew Global Attitudes surveys that examine trends in attitudes of populations around the world both with regard to the United States and with respect to happenings in their own countries and those in the larger world.
The third source is suggestions that strike us as important, some of them coming from our own staff, from other researchers and from those of you who follow our research and findings. These include our studies of various social phenomena such as the attitudes and behaviors of the Millennial generation, trends in racial attitudes and opinions, attitudes toward science and trust in government and the characteristics and opinions of Muslim Americans.
In all these areas we try, where possible, to reproduce not only the exact wording of questions we have asked in the past, but also the ordering of key questions. That’s because the context in which a question is asked can often significantly influence responses.
Andrew Kohut, President, Pew Research Center