The Role of Public Opinion Research in the Democratic Process: Insights from Politicians, Journalists, and the General Public

Henning Silber, Allyson L. Holbrook, Timothy P. Johnson


This study reveals the existence of a paradox in how the public views polling within the democratic process. Specifically, even though the public believes that it can influence poli­cymaking, it considers public opinion polls not as useful as other, less representative forms of public input, such as comments at town hall meetings. Analyzing data from multiple surveys conducted in the United States of America, we find no evidence for the demo­cratic representation hypothesis with respect to polling. Comparisons across stakeholders (public, journalists, and politicians) demonstrate that general perceptions of inputs into the democratic process are similar, which confirms the citizen-elite congruence hypothesis. However, unlike members of the public, experts are more likely to believe that public opin­ion polls are the optimal method by which the public can successfully inform policymak­ing, a finding consistent with the legitimization hypothesis. With respect to perceptions of politicians, we found substantial differences regarding party registration with Democrats and Independents favoring public opinion polling and Republicans preferring alternative methods (e.g., town hall meetings) of informing policymakers.


public opinion research, public policy, democratic representation, policymaking, survey value, preferences, media, politicians

Full Text:




  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2022 Henning Silber, Allyson L. Holbrook, Timothy P. Johnson

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.