Survey Research, Its New Frontiers and Democracy

From the presidential address delivered by Scott Keeter, Director of Survey Research, Pew Research Center, at the 67th Annual Conference of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR), Orlando, Florida, May 18, 2012.

I am honored to have this opportunity to address the 67th annual conference of AAPOR, an organization I have loved since I first joined in 1986.

For those of us in the business of studying the attitudes, behaviors and experiences of the public, these are the best of times and the worst of times.

Never before in history has so much information about the public been so readily available for us to study and analyze. The world is getting flatter, traditional authorities are losing power, and people are gaining the ability to organize and act without a hierarchy to propel and guide them. In this changing world, information about what people do, what they think and what they want is more critical than ever.

But the institutions dedicated to measuring what the public thinks, experiences and does are undergoing significant change — and much of this change is not good. At the same time, our trusted methods for gathering information are encountering serious challenges, as we all know too well. …

A unifying and foundational principle of our profession, and of AAPOR, is that the generation of unbiased information and data about the population is critical to the health of our democracy. Democracy has many meanings, but common to them is the connection between the people and those who hold power in the society. Though often imperfect in conception and implementation, democracy implies that people are equal. And so, biased information about the public weakens the connection at the core of democracy. …

The full speech can be found at This excerpt is reprinted with the permission of the author.