Opinion polling

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The opinion research (also: Demoskopie ( ancient Greek δῆμος démos "people" σκοπείν skopein "peek") or survey research) is used to determine the public opinion , that is of insights, attitudes, moods or desires of the population. It represents the counterpart to ecoscopy or ecoscopic market research , which uses empirical methods to determine objective findings (sales, price developments, buyer structures, etc.).

For opinion research, primary data are collected through surveys on the basis of a representative cross-section of the population to be examined and then interpreted. The survey can be carried out either in person, by telephone, in writing or through an online questionnaire. Opinion research can involve both one-off surveys (cross-sectional studies) and long-term studies ( longitudinal studies ).

Long-term examinations can be designed either in the form of repeated surveys of different samples (trend study) or in the form of panel examinations (person-identical multiple survey ), in which the same people are surveyed repeatedly over a period of often several years.


The first documented public opinion poll was conducted in 1824 by the local Harrisburg newspaper . It was asked who will become president after the 1824 election . 59 percent said Andrew Jackson would be the next president. In the election he also got the most votes, but not the most electors, and so John Quincy Adams became the 6th  President of the United States of America . In the period that followed, methods for representative surveys were developed, including by George Gallup , who developed the so-called Gallup Poll - sample survey methods from the 1930s onwards .

The study Die Arbeitslosen von Marienthal from 1933 is considered a milestone in demoscopy through the combination of qualitative and quantitative methods of social research (observation, structured observation protocols, household surveys, questionnaires, time sheets, interviews, discussions and simultaneous assistance).

In the Third Reich the so-called reports from the Reich were secret internal political situation reports of the security service of the Reichsführer SS. In them, mood reports from the German population were collected between the beginning of the war in 1939 and July 1944 in order to make them accessible to a small group of high NS functionaries and officials. (See also Gestapo reports )

In 1947, Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann founded the first opinion research institute in Germany, the Allensbach Institute for Demoscopy . More opinion research institutes soon emerged, which in 1955 established the working group for business market and sales research. V. founded.

In 1952, the sociologist Theodor W. Adorno dealt critically with the role of opinion research with “ On the current position of empirical social research in Germany ” (1957 as an essay “ Sociology and empirical research ”).

The methods of opinion research have changed due to the increasing spread of initially electronic and later digital media. First of all, personal-written or postal surveys were carried out. Later, telephone surveys added. With the spread of the Internet, online surveys are increasingly being carried out. More recent studies use information from social networks or big data .

Problems in opinion polling

Problem and criticism points

Opinion research claims to reflect the opinions of certain groups of the population; occasionally public opinion . The branch of empirical social research always leads to original empirical data. However, the quality and validity of the empirically determined (also mathematically correct) survey results depend on the quality and objectivity of their methodological structure. Without knowledge of the research design, namely without knowledge of the question, questionnaire situation, test subject selection and interviewer behavior, the quality of the results can hardly be assessed. In particular, opinion research also encounters the following problems:

  • Especially when inferences are to be drawn from an opinion on behavior or action , it often becomes apparent that the opinion expressed by the respondent about behavior or action deviates from the actual one.
  • In the case of opinions / behaviors that are perceived as socially undesirable, some of the respondents tend not to admit them or to give forward-looking answers ( psychological rationalization ). In standardized written surveys, the “yes-tendency” plays a distorting role. Otherwise, only the questions asked are answered - "Associations, unconscious or preconscious of test persons remain undiscovered".
  • It is possible to provoke certain answers both through the behavior of the interviewer ( distortion of results by the interviewer ) and through suggestive questions. This should be avoided, but it happens regularly in practice.
  • In the case of clients who tend to want to have a preconceived opinion confirmed, the type of question as well as the selection of the test persons can serve to favor certain results.
  • In the case of direct, personal interviews, it can happen that the interviewers, who often work in precarious employment relationships, “invent” the results of the survey in order to improve their salary. This is possible if they are paid per questionnaire.
  • In particular in the case of telephone surveys, doubts about the representativeness are appropriate. In addition, all those who have a negative view of such telephone surveys and therefore do not even respond to them fall out of the sample .
  • The group of people questioned is often chosen to be very small in order to keep the evaluation work as small as possible. However, this again affects the representativeness of the results. Especially when subgroups are formed, the number of people actually interviewed can be only 20 or less, which hardly allows valid conclusions to be drawn.


Particularly in the federal elections in Germany in autumn 2005 it became clear that the opinion polls made clearly wrong predictions with errors of 5% and more. In the specific case, it is still unclear exactly where the cause was, but it is assumed that the traditionally very high party affiliation in the Federal Republic of Germany is gradually falling to the values ​​that have been observed in the USA for a long time, and that therefore the correction factors, with which the primary data are weighted, gradually lose their validity and have to be adapted to the changed social perception.

Polling institutes

The largest and best-known polling institutes in Germany are:

The largest and best known polling institutes in Austria are:

Well-known polling institutes in Switzerland are:

Well-known polling institutes in France are:

Well-known polling companies in the UK are:

At the European level, Europe Elects summarizes the results and makes them available to the European public .

Areas of application

Opinion research is widely used in politics, the media, business, and social research.

In politics, opinion research is used, on the one hand, in election research and, on the other, in surveys on specific political topics. In terms of democratic theory , this often meets with criticism: The orientation of politics towards opinion research undermines more traditional and proven forms of political decision-making. The orientation of politics to the fickle opinion raised by uncertain concepts will prefer populist instead of substantively more correct solutions.

The economy uses opinion research primarily in the field of market research .


  • Richard Albrecht : Demoscopy as demagogy. Critical things from the eighties. Shaker Verlag , Aachen 2007, ISBN 978-3-8322-6324-9 .
  • Pierre Bourdieu : There is no such thing as public opinion. In: Pierre Bourdieu: Sociological questions. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1993, pp. 212-223.
  • Patrick Champagne: Public opinion as a new fetish. In: Berlin Journal for Sociology. Volume 1, 1991, pp. 517-526.
  • Peter Hoeres : Appropriation and Defense of Demoscopy in the Intellectual Discourse of the Early Federal Republic. In: Franz-Werner Kersting , Jürgen Reulecke, Hans-Ulrich Thamer (eds.): The second foundation of the Federal Republic. Generational change and intellectual elaboration 1955–1975. Stuttgart 2010, pp. 69-84.
  • Felix Keller: Archeology of opinion research. Mathematics and the narrative of the political. UVK-Verlagsgesellschaft, Konstanz 2001, ISBN 3-89669-981-4 .
  • Anja Kruke: Demoscopy in the Federal Republic of Germany. Opinion research, parties and the media 1949–1990. Droste, Düsseldorf 2007, ISBN 978-3-7700-5281-3 .
  • Hans-Joachim Reeb : Popular opinion. Public opinion polls as a topic and method in political education . Wochenschau Verlag, Schwalbach 2009, ISBN 978-3-89974-489-7 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Opinion research  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. br-online.de ( Memento from March 15, 2003 in the Internet Archive )
  2. George Gallup. In: Microsoft Encarta
  3. Hans-Otto Schenk: Psychology in trade. 2nd Edition. Munich-Vienna 2007, ISBN 978-3-486-58379-3 , p. 68.