News agencies regularly refer to “the polls” as evidence of public opinion. Questions like, who should be the next president are asked to a sample of people and then news anchors report these results as a measurement of public opinion. But, what demographic of the US population is represented in these surveys? Do these polls accurately represent general public opinion? It is difficult to answer these questions if you do not know the demographic that was asked for this opinion. Wouldn’t it be great if you could look at the documentation of the polls and determine for yourself whether or not the demographic sampled on a particular topic really does represent the general public’s perspective on an issue?
Well, you can. The Roper Center: Public Opinion Archives is one of the world’s leading archives of social science data that specializes in public opinion surveys. Founded in 1947, the collection includes over 22,000 datasets and adds to it every year. It is the “largest public opinion library available anywhere in the world.”
According to the website, the Roper Center’s purpose is:
…to promote the intelligent, responsible, and imaginative use of public opinion in addressing the problems faced by Americans and citizens of other nations. In an increasingly complex and interdependent global environment, the Roper Center hopes to foster increased international understanding and to promote cross-national research. Through the maintenance of the world’s largest archive of survey data, and through its programs, presentations, and advanced research, the Roper Center strives to improve the practice of survey research and the use of survey data in the United States and abroad.
- Promoting the informed use of survey research and public opinion information.
- Maintaining, and constantly enlarging, a web-based library of survey research and public opinion data.
- Developing access tools for researchers to secure required information.
- Increasing international understanding and promoting cross-national research on political and social issues.
Many give theoretical acknowledgment to the idea that the public must be heard accurately, but the Roper Center alone is building a comprehensive research facility to ensure that the views of the public are recorded properly. The Center brings individual surveys together, enabling any researcher to better grasp what public opinion is. Survey data housed in the Center’s extensive archive are made accessible to academic and policy researchers, the press, business, and others who are interested in poll findings…the Roper Center provides for a “public audit” of polling data and reports of public opinion. As a non-profit, non-partisan public opinion data archive, the Center is in a unique position to help clarify the public’s voice.
Using Roper Center
To search through the surveys, click on the “Search Datasets” tab. Once
on the search page, you can do a keyword search and limit your results by country, organization (that conducted the survey), sample type, and date range. The search to your right used the keywords “world war 2” with a date range of 1940 to 1940, which resulted in “11 studies” (see below).
If we click on the “RoperExpress” dataset image (circled, above), we can read a summary of the study (see image below). If this is a study that interests you, or could be useful for research that you are conducting, look underneath the “Documentation” tab on the page to download the documentation on the study for free. If you want access to the actual “datasets” you will need to make arrangements with the Roper Center to get that data.