June 4, 2015



Despite Falsified Study, People's Opinions Can and Do Change Through Dialogue


Late last month, news broke that a popular study about public opinion on same-sex marriage was allegedly falsified. The study asserted that personal conversations with a gay canvasser led to a dramatic conversion in people's attitudes toward same-sex marriage. The research was published in the journal Science, cited during a This American Life podcast and featured in a variety of major publications.


This will be an unfortunate and shameful development should the allegations prove to be true. However, it should not undermine the notion that people's opinions can and do change as they engage in dialogue with others whose views and experiences are different from their own.


Social scientist Dan Yankelovich calls this shift in public opinion "the public's learning curve." The public's learning curve is different from superficial and temporary shifts in opinion that might occur in response to different forms of question wording or to passing events.


People's opinions can naturally evolve, as in the case of attitudes toward women's participation in the workforce, which shifted dramatically last century (Dan documents this shift in his book, Coming to Public Judgment). This evolution is also occurring with attitudes toward same-sex marriage - Gallup reports that support is at a record high.


Such shifts in opinion can be accelerated through dialogue and deliberation among people with diverse perspectives. We invoke these processes in our work, and we have also developed a special focus group methodology that enables us to observe and document these shifts qualitatively. James Fishkin has also provided experimental data showing shifts in public opinion as a result of deliberative discussions among diverse citizens.

Unfortunately, Americans are encountering fewer and fewer natural opportunities to engage with people whose views are different from their own. More reliable and trustworthy research is needed to better understand (and discuss!) what is on the line when such opportunities for dialogue among diverse citizens become more and more rare.



New Yorkers Diagnose the City's Most Serious Problems 

What do residents of the tri-state region worry about most? What do they say are the top issues for their communities and the region in general? Like other Americans, do they worry about diminishing opportunity? With recent headlines highlighting an increase in gun violence in the city, how do they view safety and policing?
Tune in to the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC Monday when we'll be discussing a forthcoming survey to explore questions like these. 

Will Friedman and Carolin Hagelskamp will join Brian to discuss the joint Public Agenda/ WNYC survey, explore the creative process behind the research and field questions from the show's audience. 

In addition to exploring residents' general concerns and priorities, the research will take a deep dive specifically into their attitudes toward the state of inequality and economic opportunity in the region. The survey will be fielded later this month and findings will be released in the fall.

Tune in to 90.9 FM, AM 820 or listen online Monday, June 8th at 10:50 a.m. ET. 

The Public Agenda/ WNYC survey is the inaugural project for Public Agenda's Deborah Wadsworth Fund. It will inform WNYC programming as well as future on-the-ground engagement work by Public Agenda in the region. If you would like to support this work, please donate today.


Public Agenda in the News

A collection of stories citing work from Public Agenda, our Board and our partners.

(Always Something)
"Communication and engagement - early and often - must be the heart of all major issues for your system. If you or your community now has charter schools on your radar, make the investment of time to review this practical new resource."

"In fact, dropping out of college is consistently the biggest predictor of whether or not someone will default on a student loan, and financial obligations (either the cost or the need to work to financially support oneself while in school) is the largest reason cited for dropping out."

"People are hungry for health cost information, as this [Public Agenda] study found, and if we can give it to them, that makes their lives easier." 

(OR Today)
"Three recent studies are challenging conventional wisdom about the U.S. health care marketplace that has prevailed for many years... Public Agenda, a nonprofit, nonpartisan consensus-building organization, conducted the most recent of these two studies late last summer with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. After surveying 2,010 adults, in a report titled "How Much Will It Cost: How Americans Use Prices in Health Care," the researchers concluded that 56 percent of Americans have actively looked for health care prices before getting care." 


Public Agenda is a nonprofit organization that helps diverse leaders and citizens navigate divisive, complex issues. Through nonpartisan research and engagement, it provides people with the insights and support they need to arrive at workable solutions on critical issues, regardless of their differences. Since 1975, Public Agenda has helped foster progress on K-12 and higher education reform, health care, federal and local budgets, energy and immigration. Find Public Agenda online at PublicAgenda.org.

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