The use of public opinion research by government

Insights from american and canadian research

Authored by: Lisa Birch , François Pétry

Routledge Handbook of Political Marketing

Print publication date:  November  2011
Online publication date:  March  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415579933
eBook ISBN: 9780203349908
Adobe ISBN: 9781136597442


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Political marketing research has previously discussed the use of focus groups and polling by political parties, but it has neglected to consider the substantial opinion research commissioned and conducted by government agencies. Government public opinion research (POR) is not well publicised, but provides a significant resource for politicians that can influence policy development, decisions and communication. Paraphrasing the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada (Treasury Board of Canada 2006), we define government POR as applied social science and marketing research using surveys and focus groups, commissioned by government agencies to map the attitudes and perceptions of citizens in order to produce policy-relevant information that will respond to the knowledge and marketing intelligence needs of policy-makers and managers. This definition of government POR includes the gathering of information from civil society for evaluations; however, it excludes citizen consultations involving two-way communication between government and civil society through public hearings, web-based consultations or memoirs, even though some political actors view these state-citizen interactions as legitimate ways of knowing about public opinion on a given issue. Government POR is intended primarily for internal use to improve the knowledge base on which policy-makers and public managers conduct policy. Unlike political polling, which is not government-regulated, government POR is regulated at the federal levels in both Canada and the US to ensure political neutrality and methodological quality. Political neutrality requirements preclude government polling about voter preferences for political parties or candidates. Many of the uses of market research for a ‘permanent campaign’ presented by Sparrow and Turner (2001) would not be acceptable uses of government POR under current Canadian and US rules and regulations. This chapter will explore this hitherto neglected area of market research by considering government POR within a political marketing context.

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