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Public Perspective marks 50th issue
March 2, 1998

Since its inception eight and a half years ago, the Public Perspective has highlighted the latest poll findings, along with emerging shifts in public opinion around the globe.

Last week the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research released the magazine's 50th issue.

"I want to express my deep appreciation and that of my colleagues to all the scholars, survey researchers, and others who have contributed their insights to the 50 issues," says Everett Carll Ladd, executive director and president of the center and director of the Institute for Social Inquiry. "With their support we'll try to make as many improvements to our coverage in the next 50 issues as we believe we've made in the first 50."

Themes have included foreign policy, political, economic and social ideals, and Americans' participation in the political process.

"Of all the publications which focus and report on public opinion, the Public Perspective is uniquely topical, stimulating, readable, and politically relevant," says Humphrey Taylor, chairman and CEO of polling firm Louis Harris and Associate.

Some of the magazine's more notable accomplishments include groundbreaking work on the attitudes and behaviors of Generation X, America's infatuation with gambling, and civic participation in the United States, each producing extensive national media coverage.

The precursor to the magazine was a newsletter published by the center when it was at Williams College. After the center moved to UConn in 1977, the University received a quantity of research materials. Along with them was a news-letter that published polling data.

Ladd says the newsletter selected only one or two questions from different polls and provided little analysis.

In 1978, he stopped publishing the newsletter to head up the data review section of a new publication produced by the American Enterprise Institute, Public Opinion Magazine. He edited the section that summarized and analyzed the polls.

But in 1989, the American Enterprise Institute switched gears to focus more on how policy was shaped and implemented. Ladd and his staff at the center still believed there was a need for a publication analyzing public opinion, so he created Public Perspective.

"Public Perspective is the only publication devoted solely and directly to addressing the substance of what the polls are finding," says Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll.

Ladd says there was a need for analysis and commentary on public opinion not only for academics but for business, government and the media as well.

"Survey research is remarkably wide-ranging in its uses," says Howard Schuman, professor emeritus at the University of Michigan. "It is valuable for social scientists because it is a major research tool; to government agencies for collecting basic economic and social data; and to media and commercial organizations as a way of gauging popular attitudes toward policy issues, public events, and politicians. The Public Perspective has become a uniquely successful channel of communication among these diverse users, allowing each to broaden its own focus and learn from others."

Published six times a year, each issue of the Perspective includes more than 25 pages of data. Pie and bar charts and line graphs go along with the articles, to present the numbers in a variety of ways.

The latest issue, "American Opinion in the 1990s," contains nine essays written by survey practitioners from around the country that address the challenges facing opinion research in the United States.

Also in the 50th issue are findings about public opinion on the economy; government's role and performance; the way the political process is seen to be working and areas where reforms are endorsed; and the state of the country's ethnic relations and the social and political outlook of America's many ethnic groups.

Luis Mocete