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Public Opinion and the People

Two weeks ago, following the British parliamentary elections, the Conservative Party swept the House of Commons with a clear majority, ending the latest term of hung parliament and subsequent ruling coalition of Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. 

What is perhaps most remarkable about again-Prime Minister David Cameron’s victory is how unexpected it was – despite the constant polling and survey research that characterizes modern political races, the pollsters were near-unanimously incorrect in predicting an even split in seats between the Tories and Labour, with neither gaining the majority.  This upset in the polling world has prompted a crisis of identity among some major firms, forcing all to re-evaluate their methods in our changing world of new media. 

Far from discrediting the practice of public opinion research, however, this episode sheds light on just how key it is in modern governance to have a finger on the pulse of the people’s sentiments.  Modern technology coupled with democracy has created the opportunity for a dynamic, real-time feedback loop between the elected and the electors.  The relative ease and low expense of soliciting information via Twitter, email, website surveys, etc. on citizen priorities plays a crucial role in policy development.  Knowing how to take advantage of these new tools is critical for civil society leaders especially, as they represent these interests to elected officials. 

I’m writing this post on my first trip to Dhaka, where IRI just wrapped up its first-ever Research Training Academy for Bangladeshi civil society organizations, and began a second Academy for a new batch of energetic participants.  The Academy consists of four training modules that cover all the basics of public opinion research, from qualitative to quantitative data collection, survey design and sampling.  Armed with these skills, the organizations that graduate from the Academy are better prepared to collect information on the causes they champion, and to identify areas of improvement in advancing the public interest.  Participant Tasfia Zaman, a researcher from the Bangladesh Youth Leadership Centre, described the Academy’s relevance to her work accordingly: “I just graduated from university this past year, and had done extensive academic research.  This opportunity really gave me an introduction to research for civil society, and I know it will be valuable in my work ahead.” 

Especially in a polarized political climate like Bangladesh’s, the message that succeeds is often the one that is told most compellingly and most completely.  This Academy gives the participants the tools to create such a message, and we’re looking forward to seeing its effect on their work in the coming months.  

Nihar Ranjan Roy of Transparency International Bangladesh explains primary research  to fellow participants in second Research Training Academy.


Posted by

Simon Jerome

Assistant Program Officer, Eurasia Division