This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 01 table of contents.

Uninformed Opinions

What happened when people were asked for opinions on the 1975 public affairs act? What was a similar finding by a magazine publisher?

Yet another problem with questionnaire research, surveys, and polls is that people make up opinions about things they do not know about. George F. Bishop, a senior research associate at the behavioral sciences laboratory of the University of Cincinnati, asked people for their opinions on the repeal of a non-existent act of Congress, "the 1975 public affairs act." About a third of the people he polled expressed an opinion for or against the imaginary law. Even when respondents were given the option of saying they had "no opinion," up to 10 percent still had one (Rice, 1980).

If a third of respondents are willing to express viewpoints on imaginary issues, how many more might be willing to express opinions about genuine issues, concerning which they know very little? Similar questions are raised by research conducted by a magazine publisher in which respondents were shown articles and asked if they had read any of them. About 20% of the subjects claimed to have read one or more of the articles, although all were scheduled for an upcoming publication, and none had been published before.

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