To peruse data — find the latest information on various subjects, generally check for what’s interesting or useful — without necessarily limiting your inquiry to any one topic, then listed are the best sites on the web to get free public opinion data.
Pew Research Center for the People and the Press
This is one of the best sites for foraging. The data are generally very good, the site is frequently updated, and entire survey contents, including question trends, are usually included in the various reports on the site. A great place to start.
Washington Post Poll Vault
At Poll Vault, another very good site, entire survey contents, including trend results, are promptly uploaded after the Post takes a poll. In addition, the site has several lovely features that you might want to take advantage of.
First, the last year’s worth of results are searchable, so that, for example, if you want to see all the results from Post polls from the last year on Social Security, you can call them up with the click of a mouse. You can also perform more fine-grained searches, like viewing all questions on investing Social Security funds in the stock market.
A second nice feature–for the most recent data–is the ability to display results of individual questions by common cross-tabular categories like race, sex, education, and income. You can access this feature either from the Poll Vault home page or from a page yielding results of particular searches. Hats off to the Post pollsters for adding this valuable feature.
Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles Times includes complete poll results in reports called “Stat Sheets,” which it defines as containing “the exact question wording and sequence, the numerical results for each question (usually including some selected demographic cross-tabulations), any trend data that exist for particular questions, and a description of the survey methodology.” And that is indeed what these stat sheets contain, going from the very latest LA Times polls to as far back as 10 years ago. A great resource.
Note: You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader on your computer to view the Stat Sheets. However, Acrobat, as it is usually called, can be downloaded easily from the LA Times Stat Sheet home page or countless other sites on the Web. Downloading Acrobat is highly recommended, since it is of use not only for the survey data on this site but for survey data on a number of other sites as well.
Leaving the felicitous realm of complete survey results, several sites do a good job of culling public opinion data from various sources and presenting results of interest.
The Polling Report
This is the site of a Washington-based public opinion newsletter. See particularly the Issues section of the contents page for access to selected recent data on key public policy issues.
Public Agenda Online
Public Agenda is a nonpartisan organization that seeks, among other things, to align elites more closely with public opinion. Along these lines it provides some elaborately produced public opinion data on particular issues (all results are presented graphically).
The public opinion data for each issue are divided into five sections: “people’s chief concerns,” “major proposals,” “who should decide?,” “a nation divided?,” and “red flags,” each of which has numerous subsections. Under this somewhat unwieldy format, one has to click into each section and then click again on a particular subsection to finally see one or two graphical results. Still, there’s a lot of useful information here, so it’s worth it to slog through the site if it covers an area you’re interested in. And the “red flags” section can be particularly useful in identifying problematic questions and ambiguities in public opinion.
Note: The site is currently free, but there is no guarantee it will stay that way. The site is, in many ways, oriented toward journalists and has charged fees in the past to its subscribers. But we will continue to list it here until its current policy changes.
National Journal Poll Track
If you work at an institution that subscribes to the National Journal, you should be able to get free access to this terrific resource, an ongoing compilation of polling data from a wide variety of sources. Poll Track excerpts poll results from just-released surveys on a daily basis and then archives these results by category, including a wide variety of public policy issues (from abortion to the Year 2000 problem). By all means, check this out if you possibly can. It requires a subscriber number and a password to access; contact the National Journal for details.
Some organizations that do their own polling present the complete results of all their surveys on their websites–the Pew Center, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times. God bless them. More common, however, is the presentation of incomplete results from surveys, typically focusing on a topic or two that the organization wishes to highlight.
The best of this lot is the Gallup organization’s site, which includes the last 2-3 years of releases of various topics. Note, however, that these releases are mostly text, with very little separate display of full question results.
The Harris Poll also archives releases on its website. However, their selection of question results is even more limited and they only archive the current year.
USA Today has partial survey results going back about six months. Selection of survey results, however, is very sparse.
Unaccountably, the New York T
imes and CNN make results accessible only from their very latest polls (though the New York Times sometimes gives the complete results of its latest survey). By assiduous searching, one can usually locate a few other polls–some incredibly out of date–lurking somewhere in the site, but it is hardly worth the effort. These sites could benefit from an archive.
The television network and national newsmagazine sites (Time, Newsweek, etc.) yield only a few tidbits.
While most sites for commercial polling organizations contain little more than plugs for their services, several of the more politically oriented ones have sites with useful data. Of these, perhaps the best is the Greenberg Research site, which has quite a few survey reports available, neatly archived, with generous amounts of survey results presented in tabular form. Not quite the gold standard of full survey results, but useful nonetheless.
Other useful commercial polling sites are maintained by the Tarrance Group, Zogby International, and Wirthlin Worldwide. You must sift and winnow, but there is still much useful data to be found on these sites about current public policy issues.
By no means are all useful data collected by national organizations. Some very good polling is collected by state-level organizations, especially survey research institutes based in universities. These data typically cover the individual states, but there is a fair amount of national polling as well. The standard problem with these sites is a lack of actual survey results: there’s usually an enormous amount of description of the institute’s services, lists of current projects, technical research reports–everything but the data. Here we feature some of the best, where actual data can be found in a reasonably organized and accessible format.
One of the best sites in maintained by Quinnipiac College’s Polling Institute. Recent polls covering Connecticut, New Jersey, New York State, and New York City are neatly categorized and displayed with close-to-full survey results. Another excellent site is maintained by Marist College. Releases with partial survey results, covering New York City, New York State, and the nation as a whole, are archived back as far as 1995.
The Public Policy Institute of California is an excellent site for California data. Full survey results from the ongoing Changing Political Landscape of California series, with considerable data about public policy issues, are posted on the site. Note: you need Acrobat to read the survey report and data files.
Other good sites include those of :
- the University of Cincinnati’s Institute for Policy Research, featuring the Ohio poll
- Rutgers University’s Center for Public Interest Polling, featuring the Starr-Ledger/Eagleton Poll
- Florida International University’s Institute for Public Opinion Research, featuring the Florida Poll
- Millersville (Pa.) University’s Center for Opinion Research, featuring the Keystone Poll
- Arizona State University’s Cronkite School, featuring the KAET poll and Northern Arizona University’s Social Research Laboratory, featuring the Arizona Poll
- The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, featuring the Minnesota Poll
Some survey data are gathered for primarily academic purposes– that is, mostly for use by scholars. The two most prominent such surveys are the National Election Study (NES) and the General Social Survey (GSS), each conducted once every two years in even-numbered years. Data from both surveys are available on the web.
By far the superior site is that for the NES. This site features a terrific Guide to Public Opinion and Electoral Behavior that display a variety of useful information in time series, tabular form. Data are complete through 1996. See particularly the Public Opinion on Public Policy Issues section. While some of the tables can be a bit difficult to read–for example, those based on seven-point scales–this is still a fine resource to get a sense of how public opinion has moved over long periods of time.
The GSS site is not for the faint of heart. You must select a topic from the subject index, go to that topic, pick out a variable you are interested in, and then click on that to get a distribution of raw frequency counts for that variable. The frequency counts then have to be transformed–by you–into percentages to make sense of the data. And the data are only updated through 1994! Not recommended except for the truly motivated (it has a question you just have to look at).
Last updated June 14, 1999