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Toronto School of Public Policy & Governance

Public Opinion and Public Policy

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The recent U.S. election has focused new attention on the challenges facing public opinion polling. Yet public opinion research (POR) and public consultation have become increasingly important in government decision-making and in the public sphere. This seminar will explore the meaning of public opinion, how it is measured, and how governments and other clients such as the non-governmental organizations and the media use public opinion research. The course will examine recent developments in research techniques and the opportunities and challenges inherent in the current public opinion research environment. As a special focus, we will look at the opinion polling in the recent U.S. presidential race and what we can learn from this. Participants will emerge from this course with a critical understanding of public opinion and an ability to assess and ask the right questions about public opinion research and public consultation results that they will encounter in their professional settings and in media reports. As well, they will develop a better knowledge of research techniques and strategies.


  • Introduction to public opinion-what is public opinion?
  • How to measure public opinion
  • Surveys
  • Focus groups
  • Public consultation
  • Developments in POR today – what are the new technologies? Can we measure accurately? Is there a polling crisis? What to look for?
  • The U.S. Presidential election of 2016 – what can we learn?
  • Use of public opinion research by the broader public sector
  • Ways that POR is used by governments
  • NGO and private sector polling
  • Media polling

Who should attend

Prospective participants for this seminar include those who work in and close to the public policy community including those in the public service, non-governmental organizations, political parties, and the media, and those working in public affairs and government relations in the private sector.

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