European journal of communication vol:23 issue:4 pages:490-500
By widely disseminating news reports about opinion poll results, news media give politicians and citizens a particular indication of people's opinions. Problems arise when journalistic statements are based on opinion polls that do not conform to methodological standards or when a `biased' image of `public opinion' is published. In order to study the intertwined relationship between news media, opinion polling and public opinion, it has to be understood how the media present polls in the news. Using a content analysis of newspaper articles, this study addresses the question of how the media manufacture news based on opinion polls. Because to date there are few empirical studies available for Belgium, this research focuses on the Flemish (Dutch-speaking) case through an analysis of print articles about opinion polls published in six newspapers between 2000 and 2006. The results show that a recent quantitative growth in poll news does not go hand in hand with a similar increase in the quantity of methodological poll information disclosed. Predominantly, poll-related articles disclose on average between 0.5 and 2.5 methodological aspects and a large number of the articles (69 percent) do not contain any methodological evaluation of the poll results. Furthermore, more poll articles consist of an informative report of poll results (54 percent) than a mere subjective analysis of polls (26 percent) and if polls are compared with each other, they are mostly compared longitudinally.