Public survey

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A public survey is a list of questions aimed at extracting specific data from a particular group of people. Surveys may be conducted by phone, mail, via the internet, and sometimes face-to-face on busy street corners or in malls. The census is the most widely known form of public survey, and is conducted every ten years in the United States by the federal government. Some form of census is performed with varying degrees of accuracy in almost every nation, with the results used to determine governmental budgets and taxation. Law enforcement and other public services such as public schools depend upon accurate census information.

Another form of public survey originated with the Nielsen company, surveying people's media habits. Nielsen surveys ask people questions about the use of television, radio, print media, and the internet. Demographic information obtained from surveys results in the formation of prediction markets and increases understanding of social networks. The concept of opinion leadership, explains how the more educated and affluent members of society channel information gleaned from mass media to others in their social groups.


The most famous public survey in America is the national census. Held every ten years, the census attempts to count all persons, and also obtain demographic data about factors such as household income, ethnicity, and religion. The most recent survey was conducted in 2000, the results of which are available online at

Nielsen ratings are another example of public surveys. Nielsen ratings track media-viewing habits (radio, television, internet, print) the results of which are used to make decisions by and about the mass media. Some Nielsen ratings localize the data points to give marketing firms more specific information with which to target customers. Demographic data is also used to understand what influences work best to market consumer products, political campaigns, etc.

See also[edit]


  • Wilbur Schramm, "The Beginnings of Communication Study in America: A Personal Memoir", ed. Steven H. Chaffee and Everett M. Rogers. (1997) Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA.
  • Sunstein, Cass, Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge.(2006) Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom.
  • Tapscott, Don & Anthony Williams, Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. (2006) Penguin, New York.

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